“Gentleman, please remove your hats as we open this session in…silence.” The word “silence” in Pueblo, Colorado, has been used to replace the corporate prayer that has opened city council meetings in the city for decades if nor for a century. “It doesn’t matter what church, temple or mosque leads off the session, we just go down the phone book and invite religious leaders to lead us in prayer,” according to city clerk Gina Dutcher. Not good enough says the spokeswoman from the legalistic activist group “Freedom from Religion” a “watch dog” group based in Madison, Wisconsin. Laurie Gaylor, clarifies, “It’s embarrassing for some people to have to stand for a prayer from a religion that they don’t agree with.” Dutcher counters, “People are asked and invited to stand, no one is required to stand, there are always a few people who don’t participate in the prayer, and that’s fine.”
From High School football games in rural towns, to public gatherings in major cities, Freedom from Religion has stopped prayer from being spoken out loud under threat of legal action. Pueblo is the latest victim of the threats and so far is yielding replacing the spoken prayer by members of the clergy to a “moment of silence.” The city ordinance has called for all city council sessions to open with prayer, and according to city officials “that will have to be changed.”
Meet you at the pole
“A way around the legal tyranny may be what school children have done around the country,” says a member of the clergy. “Meet you at the pole” is student run prayer that is voluntary and many kids participate in that since it is student run. “If city council had a citizen who asked to pray before sessions who did not represent any religion, they could do it!” While this may be a Shakespearean solution as in “the pound of flesh” (without dropping an ounce of blood) it would effectively legalistically, thwart the assault from “Freedom of Religion.” “There are some people who would be more embarrassed by the moment of silence,” the local Pastor maintains, “you ever hear of awkward silence?”
Dear Baptist Church in Danbury
Thomas Jefferson, wrote back to the church at Danbury, when the elders expressed concern that they would be limited in their involvement in their communities. “Jefferson meant well,” said a Baptist Pastor in Pueblo, “but unknowingly left the door open to extremists like Freedom From Religion.”
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
Jan. 1. 1802.
“Obviously, the Pueblo city council by inviting all clergy no matter what faith they are, has embodied the freedom Jefferson writes of,” the Pastor continues, “When Jefferson writes,
“make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State,” he defines clearly that there shall be no state religion or a free expression and exercise of prayer, worship anywhere and everywhere, including a citizen opening up the city council session in prayer. For now the city council in Pueblo is yielding to the threats of legal action.
Note to readers: The National Prayer Examiner continues to report on how prayer and freedom of expression are being exercised in communities across the country. If you have an idea for the Thursday column please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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