By Marybeth Clark, August 13, 2009
This is an open letter to recent religious letter-writers who oppose replacing La Crosse Common Council prayers with a moment of silence.
Please, realize that we non-believers have no intention of taking your religion away from you, as so many seem to fear. Most of my dearest friends are devoutly religious. While occasionally we calmly discuss our philosophies, we each live with the knowledge that there are countless good people who do not share our beliefs. We live as our forefathers intended, each respecting the other’s right of independent thought.
The argument that pre-council prayer is a 40-year tradition and therefore must be continued is not valid. If that were the case we’d still have slavery, segregation and women not being able to vote. Those courageous council members who advocate a moment of silence should be praised, not scathed. They are endorsing your right to pray to your God directly.
In fact, Jesus agrees with them. Check your Bible, Matthew Chapter 6, when he chastises as “hypocrites” those who must pray as in the “synagogue and in the corner of the streets that they may be seen by men.” His praise was for those who do not need an audience to witness their piety but who “enter into thy closet … and shut thy door” and pray to “thy Father … in secret.” They, he said, shall be “rewarded openly.” A La Crosse ordinance for a moment of silence will allow each member to pray silently and directly to his/her God as fervently as desired. How can that possibly take anything away from you?
Many writers cited the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment as argument that the council should continue its prayer practice. As a former public school teacher, I am appalled at the lack of understanding of basic American principals. The amendment reads, “Congress (i.e. government) shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Note the word “establishment.” When the council listens to mostly Christian clergy month after month for 40 years, one would have difficulty denying that they have endorsed that faith as an official religion.
Read your history. Most of the framers of our government traced their roots to England. Recall the abuses that Protestants endured after Martin Luther’s edicts against the Catholic Church, followed by those perpetrated on the Catholics when England’s King Henry VIII embraced his own brand of Protestantism. Then, upon Henry’s death, when Mary Tudor, a Catholic, tried to return England to the pope, with anguish and death endured by Protestants. Within the next decade a more pragmatic Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne, and the fighting began in earnest between Episcopalians, Cromwellian Protestants, Puritans and other sects. America’s forefathers remembered that turmoil. They wanted to assure that those persecutions would not happen here.
Allow us to move to a respectful acceptance of each other. Endorse a moment of silence as a way to begin our common council meetings.