Skip to content


First Amendment Wounded In Drive-by Shooting

RadarThere are just some things that are guaranteed in life. Death and taxes are two that come to mind frequently. Another one, just as guaranteed, is that some anti-Christian group will raise a fuss about someone displaying a crèche or praying in public using the “J-word”. Sure enough, one of our favorite “religious liberties” groups has been kind enough not to disappoint this year.

The Board of Commissioners in Delaware County has been notified by the good folks and true at “Americans United for Separation of Church and State” that they are being terribly un-American in how they conduct their business. This group, headed by the Reverend Barry Lynn, has been sending letters to many governmental bodies in an attempt to muzzle elected officials from offering invocations before legislative sessions. The letter sent to Commissioners Glenn Evans, Kris Jordan and James Ward warn that Americans United expects a reply within 30 days of the letter, dated December 10.

Reading into this “threat letter” is not very difficult. While couching their iron fist in a velvet glove, feigning their undying devotion to upholding the Constitutional rights of all, the joyless Grinches at AU in essence telegraph their message that uttering a prayer in public by an elected official should be verboten.

They first claim that there is a constitutional requirement to keep prayers nonsectarian, which is not true, misquoting a key US Supreme Court decision Marsh v. Chambers which rejected a challenge brought against the practice of opening legislative sessions with a prayer from a chaplain paid for by taxpayer dollars. Playing the old game of only telling a partial truth, AU leaves out two pertinent parts of the decision, one that shows that the majority opinion was favorable to the idea of prayer as a part of a legislative session, and another that specifically spoke to the fact that the concern was to the context, not the content of the prayer.

Indeed, in Marsh, one finds this from the opinion: “The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country. From colonial times through the founding of the Republic and ever since, the practice of legislative prayer has coexisted with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.”

Then AU’s crack team of religious liberty defenders say that what they really want is the elimination of all future prayers by the commissioners, and say as much in their letter. I must assume that in their burning desire to read into the First Amendment something that is not there, they also selectively ignore the unambiguous clause in that particular text that directly prohibits the abridgement of the freedom of speech.

Obviously, Americans United needs a refresher course in American history, not to mention in reading the Constitution of the United States. Legislative sessions at the national, state and local levels have been opened by invocations and asking of favor from God since our first assemblies in the Colonies. Even our Continental Congress in 1774 began with a three hour prayer session led by the Reverend Jacob Duche. Indeed, the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights left local governments free to address the issue of faith in government, as the First Amendment restricts the ability of the federal Congress to make a law respecting an “establishment of religion”, and the Tenth Amendment reserves rights not specifically delegated to the federal government to the states or to the people.

Maybe someday (and no, I’m not holding my breath) the valiant defenders of liberty at Americans United for Separation of Church and State will realize that in order to preserve religious liberties, one cannot target Christianity for elimination. Until then, we will just have to be prepared for the annual drive-by.

Posted in Commentary, Public Policy Radar.