Praying in Public

Kids Praying I’ve posted below, with minimal commentary, two related articles. The first comes from LifeSite:

Valedictorian Speech Cut off at the Name of Christ By Hilary White LAS VEGAS, June 22, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The name of Christ is so offensive to modern secular ears that Clark County School District officials, who knew it was coming, cut off the microphone during a valedictorian address before they or anyone else could hear it. Brittany McComb is a Christian and a top student graduating from Foothill High. She knew that her valedictorian address would probably be cut short, but was determined to go ahead and mention the one name that is for her above every other name. “I went through four years of school at Foothill and they taught me logic and they taught me freedom of speech,” McComb stated. “God’s the biggest part of my life. Just like other valedictorians thank their parents, I wanted to thank my lord and saviour.” The 400 plus graduates and guests gathered at a Las Vegas casino for the ceremony booed and jeered after McComb’s speech was cut short. McComb was required to vet her speech before the graduation ceremony with Foothill administrators. This, says the school, is standard practice before speeches are read. The school officials then removed all Biblical references and the single mention of the name of Jesus Christ. McComb, who graduated with a 4.7 grade point average, was warned that if she deviated from the approved text, she could be cut off; but she saw it as a matter of freedom of speech. “People aren’t stupid and they know we have freedom of speech and the district wasn’t advocating my ideas,” McComb said. “Those are my opinions.” “It’s what I believe.” The school district’s legal counsel, Bill Hoffman, said that McComb’s words counted as preaching. He told media, “We review the speeches and tell them they may not proselytize.” McComb said she was not surprised by the censorship. “Even in the Bible it says that the name of Jesus will be hated.” “But the thing is, it is freedom of speech, so I was upset,” McComb said on the “Jay Sekulow Live!” radio program on June 20. “I was really leery about having to defy authority…. It took me a while, but I answer to a higher authority and it’s my freedom of speech, and I had to come to terms with that.” The American Civil Liberties Union, becoming notorious for its secularist zealotry in cases of public expression of religious belief, praised the school’s decision saying, “It’s important for people to understand that a student was given a school-sponsored forum by a school, and therefore, in essence, it was a school-sponsored speech.” Not so, says a Constitutional lawyer and freedom of speech activist. Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Florida-based pro-family legal organization Liberty Counsel, said McComb should take the school district to court. “I think this is one of the most outrageous examples of censorship at graduation that I’ve seen,” Staver said to Agape Press. “For school officials to literally be standing by the switch at the mixing board and cut the microphone on a student, simply because that student mentions God or Jesus, is just unbelievable.” A writer in the Conservative Voice, Ben Shapiro, responded, “Let’s assume the school district, by allowing McComb’s speech, would have been promoting her message. Here’s the question: So what?” “There is no right to be free from public expression of religion,” Ben Shapiro wrote, “but there is a Constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion … it is none of the school district’s business whether she chooses to invoke God, Jesus or Zeus (though history indicates that the ACLU would fight for her right to invoke Zeus).” The Constitution of the US, says Shapiro, prohibits the establishment of a state religion such as the Anglican Church in Britain, but was never intended to suppress the right to freedom of religious expression. See MSNBC’s interview with Brittany McComb: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13461308/ Express your concern to Foothill High: Foothill High School Main (702) 799-3500 FAX (702) 799-3524 800 College Drive Henderson , NV . 89015 PRINCIPAL Gretchen Crehan (702) 799-3500 ext. 4100

The second article comes from the Daily Herald, a local newspaper. It reports about a recent city council meeting that took place in Des Plaines, one of Chicago’s northern suburbs. (I would have linked to the article directly, but the Daily Herald website is subscription-only.)

Priest calls for “sense of dignity” for the unborn By Ames Boykin Daily Herald Staff Writer Posted Thursday, June 22, 2006 Before Des Plaines City Council officials delve into city business, the gavel is handed to God. For as long as officials can remember, a clergy member has been invited to deliver a prayer at the start of city council meetings just before the Pledge of Allegiance. The prayer is typically brief, devoted to asking God to grant city council members wisdom and guidance to serve the community. Some in the audience, including city officials, clasp their hands and bow their heads. The act seems only natural in a council chambers that features pews for seating. But the roughly two-minute invocation that the Rev. Richard Mau, of the Immanuel Lutheran Church, gave Monday night sounded more like Sunday morning to some.

Note that the headline incorrectly says “Priest”; Rau is actually a Missouri Synod Lutheran minister. The article continues:

Some city officials began saying the pledge, mistakenly believing Mau had finished. “Give all of our citizens the sense of dignity for all human life, including the unborn, those with various afflictions, and the aged and the infirmed,” Mau said. “Grant that we and all the people of our nation and world have the grace to maintain our liberties in your righteousness and peace in Jesus.” Mayor Tony Arredia said he was shocked that the prayer continued in the tone it did. “Normally, we have a guy who just comes in and prays for the city and country,” Arredia said. “But he (Mau) had an agenda. He must have had something on his mind. We were kind of taken aback.” Des Plaines is one of the few Northwest suburbs that includes an invocation at city council meetings. Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect and Barrington also include a prayer. Arredia’s secretary, Donna Catlett, invites representatives of various faiths, including Islam, by letter. Mau estimates he has given an invocation at least eight times at Des Plaines meetings. Clergy get instructions to keep it short, but they receive no direction on content, Catlett said. Mau on Wednesday stood by his prayer, saying he wanted to speak against abortion rights. He urged anyone who had a problem with his prayer to talk to him directly. Mau said he realizes that the prayer may have made people of other faiths uncomfortable. “If it’s uncomfortable, I can understand that,” Mau said. “(But) I feel uncomfortable if someone of a totally different faith prays there, too.” Resident Mike Lake, who was in the audience, said the prayer amused him and others in the audience because he thought it was a bit over the top. “I know we all got a little confused and smiled at each other,” Lake said. “We thought he was done, and he hadn’t even started his prayer yet.” Invocations at gatherings, whether it be the U.S. Senate or city council meetings, are seen as ceremonial, not as unconstitutional, said Edwin Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. It has been the trend for municipalities to stop including prayers at meetings as communities become more diverse and strive not to alienate residents of all faiths, he said. Arlington Heights ended regular invocations at village board meeting in the early 1990s amid constitutional questions targeting street signs that direct people to churches, Village Manager Bill Dixon said. The village decided to avoid further questions and began gradually phasing out the practice, he said. In Buffalo Grove, Village President Elliott Hartstein said the village has never included prayers at its board meetings. “If you provide for a prayer, how do you know that that prayer is appropriate for everyone who is sitting there?” Hartstein said. “Different people have different beliefs. I think it’s a scenario that’s left best to people’s personal time, and not something that’s imposed.” In Mount Prospect, a trustee or the village president gives the invocation. Elk Grove Village invites representatives of all religions, including Buddhism. Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said the invocation is typically a short prayer that pushes no political agenda. “I just think it’s the appropriate way to start a meeting,” Johnson said.

My predictions: If Brittany hasn’t already filed a lawsuit against her school, she will soon, and she will win. I also bet that the Des Plaines city council will very soon vote unnecessarily to discontinue its tradition of beginning its meetings with prayer. I hope, of course, that I’m wrong on this one.

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