America has a funny history balancing government and religion.
“In God We Trust” is printed on our currency – Which God? Whose God? – yet the U.S. Constitution clearly dictates separation of church and state. So why would our government put “God” on the money it prints, the most tangible, useful reminder that government exists?
This one’s a pickle.
The U.S. Supreme Court took a stab at the issue of church and state with their recent ruling that prayer before city council meetings in Greece, N.Y. was not unconstitutional, even though the prayers offered were confined to the Christian faith.
The argument against Greece was that government serves all people – not just Christians – and if prayer is a part of government proceedings then the municipality should take pains to be as inclusive as possible of all faiths.
In siding with Greece, the Supreme Court pointed to our country’s history of, well, not doing that.
Set aside the fact that the Supreme Court just ruled on an issue using the old trusty “that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it” logic and let’s take a look at some of our inescapable past.
The Library of Congress has an exhibition entitled “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic,” which showcases the role the pulpit played in the American Revolution. By their account, American ministers at the time gave moral sanction to the opposition of British rule by assuring that revolution was justified in the sight of God. A scholar went so far as to say that “by turning colonial resistance into a righteous cause, and by crying the message to all ranks in all parts of the colonies, ministers did the work of secular radicalism and did it better.”
So in reality, we have a guaranteed freedom of religion but without it, we might not be free.
Our respective governing bodies here in Ashland and Hanover open meetings with prayer. Though pains should always be made to be as inclusive as possible, we say keep it up. For without faith in government, ironically, we all might still be praying to an overseas king.