Yesterday I met with a local Americans United for the Separation of Church and State group. We had a city council woman as our guest speaker. She was there to explain why she thought it was necessary for the city council to open each meeting with a prayer, despite the fact that this is blatantly unconstitutional and another near by city was just sued for this. (The city lost, it went up to the supreme court and they refused to hear it, so the 4th circuit court’s ruling stood)
Despite having a lawyer background, she was woefully uneducated in the history or church/state issues. She kept trying to tell us it was just a generic higher power, no specific god, that they were praying to, and thus it was not state endorsement of religion.
No. Sorry, you’re wrong. Here is an example of christian privilege in action. She just assumed that she was the norm and that everyone else had a god, even if they sometimes differed on what faith. We asked her, “What about those without a religious faith? What about Atheists or Agnostics?” She was confused by this and did the little song and dance all politicians do when they obviously have been proved wrong yet want to save face. Atheists and Agnostics hadn’t even crossed her mind when she crafted this legislation mandating prayer at every council meeting.
Acknowledging a generic god is still an endorsement of religion. No, it is not like saying “Jesus Christ is our lord and savior”, but it’s not much different. For starters, the government is taking a stance on the question “Does a higher power exist?” By answering in the affirmative they alienate all of the non-religious citizens. After stating that a higher power exists (for which there is no more evidence other than “faith”) the government then goes on to call it “god”. God is singular, as opposed to “gods”, and is also masculine, as opposed to goddess. This then alienates everyone else who does not believe in a single masculine god. Trying to claim “Oh, but we don’t mean singular masculine, we mean anything” does not work because we already have words for that. One could say “Dear god-gods-goddess-goddesses”, but even then you are still managing to offend everyone.
The whole point of the first amendment is to keep government from doing exactly this. Just don’t even approach the question “Is there a higher power?” The moment you do a can of worms is opened. This lady, ignorant of the dangers and the illegality of her actions, introduced mandated city council prayer. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, she’s trying to save face by being as inclusive as possible. In the “all or none” doctrine she’s going with “all”. (Or at least claims she is. She kept only mentioning churches that she had sent invitations to. Again, christian privilege where by “religion” she automatically assumes christian churches).
The city of Charleston fell into this trap. The found that despite telling the visiting ministers they could not mention anything specific, they would often slip up at the end saying “in Jesus Christ’s name, amen.” Also, the idea that the legislators honestly mean to include everyone is a flat out lie. In their heart of hears they do intend to represent the single, masculine christian god in their prayers. This was evident when a secular humanist was invited to give the invocation at the Charleston City council. Over half of the council members walked out in protest. The non-religious are not citizens apparently…