When the government dictates prayer

I'm not much for displays of civil religion but there's one recent governmental intervention that really chaps my hide. That's where the government requires citizens to submit prayers for governmental approval before they're uttered. I rarely hear a prayer I agree with and I've yet to be too bothered by it. I expect that individuals praying publicly are praying according to their own conscience, not mine, and I respond accordingly. If I'm able to pray along, great. If I'm not, no sweat off my brow. Fact is, the prayers that absolutely horrify me the most are the ones that attempt to be "inclusive" by bringing in not just a single religion I don't adhere to but as many of them as possible.

But this governmental trend received pushback last week and the Houston Chronicle was there to report on it. I thought the story was pretty good and since it relates to Memorial Day, today is a fitting day to look at it. Headlined, "VA agrees not to interfere with holiday prayers: Agency backs down after losing court fight over pastor's mention of Jesus in Memorial Day invocation at Houston cemetery," reporter Terri Langford writes:

The nation's agency for military veterans has agreed to stay out of religious refereeing for now, backing down from its attempt to tell a minister how to craft a prayer for a Memorial Day invocation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Hindrichs told federal District Judge Lynn Hughes that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will not demand that Memorial Day prayers at Houston National Cemetery Monday be as non-denominational as possible.

I was going to criticize the use of the term "non-denominational" but I think it's actually correct. We so often see it used by evangelical Christians as a marketing term for a particular type of Christian but it really does probably mean "not tied any religion." I always think it's funny, though, that these government approved prayers would be perfectly at home in some churches -- so is it really accurate to call them nondenominational? I'm not sure.

The change of heart came one day after the judge granted the Rev. Scott Rainey a temporary restraining order against the agency after officials told the pastor to edit his prayer to make it as general and non-denominational as possible. Rainey's prayer, submitted for review at the agency's request included the recitation of the Lord's Prayer and thanked Jesus Christ, the Christian savior, in closing.

No, that's not right. Here's how it ended: "While respecting people of every faith today, it is in the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, that I pray. Amen." That's not "thanking" Jesus but praying in his name. Still, the story got good quotes, such as this one:

"I've never said a prayer in my life that didn't end with Jesus Christ," Rainey said after Friday's hearing. "It was unrealistic expectation for me not to include the name of Jesus Christ."

That's why Rainey, who has prayed at this ceremony before, filed suit. The judge said officials at the agency were going too far and telling citizens precisely how to honor veterans:

"The government cannot gag citizens when it says it is in the interest of national security, and it cannot do it in some bureaucrat's notion of cultural homogeneity," Hughes wrote.

See, stories about lawsuits can be interesting. Anyway, nicely done for an update on a story that will probably include many more updates. I hope everyone is having a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. Do let us know if you saw any particularly good or bad coverage of the day's events.

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