The horrific chain of events at the U.S. Capitol should enlighten us all on the importance of keeping state and church separate.
When the lockdown was over, we Americans breathed a sigh of relief after the very composed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reconvened the House — a gripping triumph for democracy over a threatened coup. But the moment was marred when she superstitiously prefaced her remarks with prayer. Although she spared members of Congress the indignity of being asked to bow their heads and recite a prayer in unison, she unabashedly recited a sectarian Christian prayer, making reference to “Saint” Francis of Assisi and even calling him the “patron saint” of San Francisco!
"On this holy day of epiphany, let us pray,” Pelosi intoned. “As you know, I'm a big believer in prayer. Let us pray that there will be peace on Earth and that it will begin with us. Let us pray that God will continue to bless America."
Didn’t it occur to her that if God was busy blessing America on Jan. 6, we could use fewer of such “blessings”?
As FFRF Metropolitan Chicago Chapter Director Tom Cara notes, “It’s bad enough when our highest-ranking elected officials feel the need to invoke prayer to some higher power, when they are the ones who are responsible for our well-being. But her blatant reference to Christian ritual being uttered in our halls of government is an outrage. I hope our representatives in the Congressional Freethought Caucus air their grievances to her about this.”
The embarrassing trope, “God Bless America,” which just about every president since the mid-1960s considers de rigueur to drop in speechifying, was also employed the same day by President Trump in his disgraceful callout to supporters, many of them white Christian Nationalists: “So let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to thank you all. God bless you and God bless America.”
Shouldn’t that give other politicians, Democratic or Republican, pause? But it seems not to have.
President-elect Joe Biden, who is to be commended for quickly condemning the Capitol insurrection, also ended his remarks with the same phrase.
When the Senate adjourned — after getting its deferred counting of the electoral votes accomplished — Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, a Seventh-Day Adventist, ended with more prayer. Much of what he said is what we are all saying about the insurrection. He deplored the violence, invoked our common humanity, attested to the need to defend the Constitution. But it was all in the context of beseeching some “higher power” to accomplish what we and Congress need to do ourselves. The most objectionable part of his prayer was his opening: “Lord of our lives and sovereign of our beloved nation . . . Thank you for what you have blessed our lawmakers to accomplish in spite of threats to liberty [italics added].
It is unacceptable that the Senate chaplain doesn’t understand we have a secular Constitution. The Founders got a lot wrong in those early days, but it was genius when they deliberately adopted the world’s first godless Constitution, placing sovereignty not in a divinity but in “We the People.”
“We the People” and our sovereignty were threatened yesterday. We don’t need more religion in our government, even ceremonial. We need a true “epiphany” in our nation that religion belongs to the private sphere, and has no place in our politics or our government.