Nothing Fails Like Government Prayer

Ask and ye shall not receive

Some conservative Christians like to point out that although there was no prayer during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which resulted in the successful longest-lived constitutional democracy in history, there was indeed formal Christian prayer spoken 13 years earlier during the Continental Congress in 1774. Many believers point to that earlier prayer as evidence that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

But remember that this was before the First Amendment, before the Revolutionary War, and before our country, as we know it, even existed. There was no prohibition of laws “respecting the establishment of religion.” There were no U.S. laws at all. The Continental Congress was not the formation of the United States of America: it was a botched first attempt to form a confederation which turned out to be too loose and too weak to be called a nation.

The results of that 1774 Congress, blessed by “our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings,” were not only wholly inadequate, they were a dismal failure. The prayer, delivered by the Episcopal Reverend Jacob Duché, asked the “Lord of Lords” to “defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries . . . [and] constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!”

In other words, “God, don’t let there be a war.” The King of Kings was supposed to supernaturally stop the King’s Army from even firing a shot.

It didn’t work out that way.

As many as 50,000 fighters, from both sides, were killed in battle, wounded, or died in prison. About 1 in 20 military-age males lost their lives. (Today, that would represent millions of lives.) Why didn’t the “high and mighty Lord” cause them to drop their weapons?

The history of governmental prayer offers us an often too bloody object lesson of the truth: “Ask and ye shall not receive.”

[NOTE: FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel reminds me that "True to the flexibility of religious thinking and principles, the Rev. Duché later abandoned his fellow colonials in their fight for independence and defected to the British. He was convicted of treason against Pennsylvania and decamped to the warm bosom of his King.  Not one of the brighter stars in our founding history."]

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