~Living a life of sophisticated domestication deep in the heart of Texas~

Friday, June 24, 2011

Public Prayer the American Way

On the National Day of Prayer this year, once again, we stood with the Interfaith Council folks downtown to intone Buddhism's exquisitely potent prayer. Besides the obvious faith-based reasons for doing this (prayers for the sake of one's nation are an integral Buddhist tradition), we had patriotic motives. In showing up for the annual duty/privilege, my friends of diverse faith and I put into practice that enlightened civil covenant called constitutional religious liberty.

Before a few progressives stood up for equality in 2005, the NDOP observance in this steeple-studded Texas town epitomized a troubling erosion of appreciation for the very opening terms of the Bill of Rights, known as the "establishment clause," whereby government promises not to lend advantage to any one religion. Because those prior events were held on the City Hall steps and lawn and were starkly sectarian, they represented a distinct enough violation -- local government heartily encouraged the one religion and snubbed all others.

Our beautiful Interfaith ceremony has been exemplary and a major improvement over the protocols of a self-ordained "National Day of Prayer Task Force" chaired by church lady Shirley Dobson. The exclusion of Jews and even Catholics is something their web site is haughtily unapologetic about, and thus they give themselves away. Theirs is not an "official" role, or even a lawful one, in the National Day of Prayer.

Speaking of reprehensible, Governor Rick Perry continues to rally the zealous on and on towards a constitution-stomping orgy of pandering scheduled for August 06 at a Houston stadium. He eyes the White House as an "apolitical" Christian, whence his chilling conviction that "(a)s a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us…"

This after Perry recently figured prominently in wrangling dubious judicial clearance for one of those small-town insurrections where they stage some sort of utterly inappropriate public school prayer. Down in Castroville, for a sublime moment there, our good-haired boy surpassed Palin herself as an avatar of confusion.

The irony in it is, of course, that the Christian commencement prayer and sentiment would have been perfectly fine under the Bill of Rights if only other creeds were shown the same respect during the same ceremony. Set aside a full 20 minutes or so and announce weeks ahead of time that any student wishing to compose and give a brief message of faith or philosophy for commencement is encouraged to do so. Then the graduation event would be consonant with the constitution and the American way. An Atheist student might very well speak for a bit about the superiority of reason, etc.

It's just that all faith options must be accorded respect. We can do this either by having no religion at the event or by welcoming any and all religions. Frankly, I don't see what is so hard to understand about this.

But the "no establishment" part is what people like Shirley Dobson and Rick Perry keep forgetting, or pretending to forget. They are like the racists of our grandparents' time, like the "male chauvinists" who used to stand in a woman's way, or like the Boy Scouts of America, fervently reassuring and protecting a culture of prejudice.

They don't know (or they pretend not to know) that freedom without equality is phony freedom, hollow and unstable. The founders of the nation saw this in a vision and specially inscribed equality on the freedom of worship. Something so complete and perfect must be an emanation of the Dharma or wonderful law of the universe!

As it plays out in society, the "no establishment" provision has been disappointing only to those who have a problem conceding equal rights to their neighbors. Obviously, a proscription against unjust domineering by one religion is hardest on those who had in mind to do just that.



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