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Pittsylvania’s supervisors should stop wasting time and tax dollars on a religious battle.
Monday, September 16, 2013
When Bedford County resident Jackie Davis stands up and prays during public comment periods at board of supervisors meetings, as she does regularly, she is exercising her right in America to openly practice the religion of her choice. This is an individual freedom.
When the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors opened meetings by leading all present in Christian prayer, it was violating the constitutionally protected religious freedom of the people it governs. This was an infringement on individual freedom.
Sectarianism cannot be part of government, including at the local level, that truly holds sacred every individual’s right to religious liberty. It was no surprise that a federal district court ruled against the supervisors, and upheld the First Amendment’s anti-establishment clause.
Still, by unanimous vote, an unchastened board has decided to appeal the decision and the judge’s order to pay the plaintiff’s court fees: $53,229. “Because,” in the words of Chairman Marshall Ecker, “I want to take a stand for Jesus.”
An inviolable right for Marshall Ecker in any role except as a county government official.
Christians who do not see the distinction might consider how they would react if Ecker and other board members were of another faith and proclaimed it with equal zeal during board meetings.
They need to stop wasting the scarce county tax dollars on advancing their religious beliefs, and turn full attention as a board to county business.
Past U.S. Supreme Court rulings have drawn a line that distinguishes secular worship from civic prayer, an acknowledgement that general invocations seeking blessings on the nation or a particular community are part of America’s heritage. But such prayers cannot do violence to the First Amendment’s proscription against a government establishment of religion.
Advocates for government prayer that clearly crosses the line hope to take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, on the chance a more conservative court will move the line farther right. This not only is an expensive gamble, but one devout people of faith should not want to win.
The wall of separation between church and state that some seek to tear down is the strongest defense against sectarian conflict in a country of increasing religious diversity.
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