There’s a lot of talk and opinions flying around on whether the Rowan County Board of Commissioners should be opening their meetings with a prayer, more specifically prayers that are Christian in nature. I for one would prefer they continue, after all, I’m a Christian. All things should be done with prayer and all things should be prayerfully done. We should always seek our creator’s council and wisdom in all endeavors.
With that said, and I hate to admit this; the ACLU has a point and a good one at that. The opening of an official government meeting should not be based on the religious preferences of the officiators or its members. This was something our founding fathers grappled with when trying to determine the best course of action for this new country called the United States of America.
Let’s explore a few things and ask a few questions.
Question: Where most of the founding fathers Christian? Answer: Yes.
Of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 49 were Protestants, 2 were Roman-Catholic, at least one deist, and the remaining (including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin) were anti-clericals that practiced a kind of “theistic rationalism”.
Question: Did most of the founding fathers believe the teachings of Jesus Christ were of benefit to all mankind and more specifically this new country? Answer: Yes.The first evidence is that most were Christian. But moreover, even Thomas Jefferson made this reference in a letter to P.H. Wendover: “Religion, as well as reason, confirms the soundness of those principles on which our government has been founded and its rights asserted.” –Thomas Jefferson to P. H. Wendover, 1815. ME 14:283
Benjamin Franklin; as quoted from the 1787 Constitutional Convention: “I have lived, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” July 28, 1787, Address at the Constitutional Convention
Thus, we see that even the “non-Christian” founders believed that the morals, ethics, and lessons of Jesus Christ were of great value in the foundations of this experiment called freedom. BUT, they were sore afraid of any government that would meddle in a person’s own religious belief, or worse, force another into a religious belief or practice as prescribed by the government or its officals.
What did Thomas Jefferson have to say about that? (The famous one we’re always hearing about.)
“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.” Jan. 1, 1802, Letter to the Connecticut Danbury Baptist Association
And 2 more that are of interest:
“Our Constitution… has not left the religion of its citizens under the power of its public functionaries, were it possible that any of these should consider a conquest over the consciences of men either attainable or applicable to any desirable purpose.” –Thomas Jefferson: Reply to New London Methodists, 1809. ME 16:332
“I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies, that the General Government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting and prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them, an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises and the objects proper for them according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands where the Constitution has deposited it… Everyone must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Miller, 1808. ME 11:429
Confused yet? Our founders were both Pro and Con when it came to religion. In their day, they were more concerned about the religious arguments from the various Christian sects than from other religions; probably because most of Europe was predominantly Christian and that the entire Christian faith was undergoing extensive upheaval by sectarian divisions. To keep the government from being divided from personal religious beliefs, they decided to keep the Church and State separated. They decided to let each of us to worship, or not; in our own way, at our own prescribed times, and force no one to follow any religion or religious practice in which they don’t believe. That is America! No where else on this planet do people enjoy such freedom of religion and expression.
My final thought and opinion:
Commissioners, although I applaud your enthusiasm for Christ and your zeal for prayer, please do so before the meetings are opened. You may want to gather outside the board room, on the lawn, or around the flag pole, and allow anyone who wants to joins you to do so. I think the complainants in the ACLU may be a little over sensitive, but that’s their right. Pray for them.