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Austin Cline

Christian Invocations: Not Everyone’s “Amen” is the Same

By August 1, 2009

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One of the arguments sometimes made by those who insist on prayers at the start of state functions like city council meetings is that a little religion is good for everyone — and besides, doesn't everyone believe basically the same thing? This isn't even true if we just limit ourselves to Christians. Every possible prayer that might be said necessarily excludes some people and is this the sort of behavior we really want at government functions? Is faith-based exclusion really something we want our government engaged in?

Allen Brill wrote a couple of years ago with respect to the prayers that are so often held before meetings of government bodies like town councils, school boards, and even legislatures:

At the typical meeting, there may be Baptists who prefer to pray “in the name of Jesus,” Catholics who pray the “Hail Mary,” Jews who cannot say “Amen!” to either and atheists who do not pray at all. How can someone lead a collective prayer and expect “amens” when those present have not gathered out of common belief? ... Christians can be thankful that the same First Amendment that guarantees the Wiccan full status as a citizen also protects the right of each of us to offer our individual prayers without interference from the government.

But let’s not pretend that a town council meeting is a gathering where all people do — or must — believe the same with respect to religion. I will not be able to say “Amen!” to the Catholic commissioner’s prayer to Mary, nor will the Jew be able to affirm in good conscience the Lutheran school board member’s prayer “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” ... If we take seriously God’s respect for our free will, it will be clear how offensive it is to the Lord when we subtly use the government’s authority to extract an “Amen!” from those who do not believe.

If not all Christians can agree on the same prayer, how can those Christians who insist on having prayers expect non-Christians to go along with it all quietly and without objecting? They are abusing the authority and power of the government in order to advance a religious agenda, which is simply wrong. If they feel that a prayer is necessary, nothing stops them from praying privately and on their own before the meeting starts. Why make it an official and public part of the program?

There is ultimately only one reason for such prayers: to have the government endorse, support, promote, and/or encourage the religious beliefs of one group of citizens over and above the beliefs of all other citizens. Apparently, some religious believers — and they always turn out to be Christians, don't they? — are unable or unwilling to keep their religion a matter of personal faith. Instead, they need for their religion to be sponsored in some way by the government.

August 1, 2009 at 1:27 pm
(1) BarnStormer says:

Well put.
And since we can’t spend all day saying individual prayers that represent everybody, why not leave it out completely.

To keep things neutral, if you will.

August 7, 2009 at 2:57 pm
(2) Todd says:


Great find! Great sentiment! He gets it… he understands that liberty for all means ALL. That faith (or lack thereof) is a private matter. To me, that is what America was built upon.

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