Since the days of Benjamin Franklin sessions of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives have opened with a prayer. Until a few days ago that tradition was void of controversy. Then, a fundamentalist prayer sent the Left into meltdown.
In an enthusiastic, but otherwise boilerplate Christian prayer lasting under two minutes State Representative Stephanie Borowicz triggered a nationwide uproar. Her transgression? She prayed to Jesus on a day when the first Muslim was being sworn into the state House.
Now you would think that a day featuring both a Christian prayer and the swearing-in of a Muslim would be the very epitome of inclusion. But the Left demands not diversity, they demand strict adherence to their speech codes. Fail to do that and their outrage machine goes into high gear. And that is exactly what happened.
Governor Tom Wolf claimed he was “horrified” by the Jesus-praising prayer. In a supreme act of religious intolerance Rep. Kevin Boyle walked out of the chamber as other Democrats booed the invocation. Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, whose swearing-in that day sparked the controversy, said she was offended and called upon the House to censure Borowicz. Later, on Facebook, Johnson-Harrell called the Christian prayer “idiotic.”
All of this led to the predictable debate over so-called separation of church and state. Social media was ablaze with Leftists proclaiming the U.S. Constitution mandates such separation. They accused Rep. Borowicz of violating that principle.
The words “separation of church and state,” of course, appear nowhere in the Constitution which actually prohibits two things: First it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” England had a state religion. Having just won a war for independence, the framers of the Constitution wanted to ensure religious freedom in America. They did this by prohibiting the federal government from establishing an official state religion.
The First Amendment then continues: “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Thus the suggested censure of Rep. Borowicz would be a clear and gross violation of her constitutional rights. Calls by Rep. Boyle and others to establish “guidelines” (which is Left-speak for a speech code) also tramples the “free exercise” of religion.
Boyle argues that each day’s invocation should be “inclusive.” Setting aside the impossibility of including every religion in every prayer there is no compelling reason for self-contained inclusion in each day’s invocation.
In the fullness of a legislative session all religions should be, and are, given the opportunity to be represented. And each should pray according to their religious beliefs. Thus, an Iman can (and did) offer a Muslim prayer, a Rabbi can offer a Jewish prayer, and a Christian is free to invoke the name of Jesus – a basic element of our faith.
At its core this entire uproar is the latest effort by the Left to scrub religion entirely from the public square. Religion stands in the way of making government the central force in our lives. Therefore, they want Christians to confine expressions of religious beliefs to Sunday mornings, preferably in a church outside of public view.
Calls for eliminating the invocation entirely reveal their mistaken belief that the Constitution requires freedom from religion. There is no such guarantee, implicit or explicit. What the Constitution clearly does is safeguard the freedom of religion. It is that right the Left is seeking to take away.
The House of Representatives is the people’s house. And Christians have a right to be heard in that house. As do, of course, those of other religions. It is not necessary for a Christian invocator to limit the number of times the name “Jesus” is said; nor alter their prayer just because those of other religions are present.
And so, the intolerant Left seized on a brief prayer and turned it into their latest crusade against the Christian religion. A national tumult ensued complete with misleading headlines in the mainstream news media, deliberate distortion and mischaracterization of the invocator’s remarks, and the predictable lamentations of the perpetually offended.
None of this changes the timeless guarantees ensconced in the U.S. Constitution protecting the rights of all – including Christians – to freely express religious beliefs. “Eternal vigilance,” as Thomas Jefferson once observed “is the price of liberty.” It is a price we clearly must continue to pay if we are to protect our freedom of religion.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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