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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Legislative Prayer Controversy...

Recent news -- a 70-year old man was arrested Monday night for interrupting a City Council meeting by praying loudly over the Council's moment of silence (HT: Religion Clause).  It's unclear from the story, but the man seems to have been protesting the Mayor's decision to stop having prayer and to go with a moment of silence.  There are a bunch of examples of legislative prayer being interrupted by dissenters; the most striking example was probably what transpired in the U.S. Senate last year. It was the first time the Senate had a Hindu guest chaplain (Rajan Zed).  When Zed began to pray, protesters from the gallery interrupted him. The whole event is here:

The people that interrupted Zed were arrested and charged; I don't know if they were convicted. 

I discuss the Zed incident (and others) in a piece that's coming out in the spring.  The piece addresses the history of legislative prayer in this country; my thesis is that legislative prayer is  more controversial and causes more division than some have believed.  I take a bit of an issue with the history provided by the Court in Marsh v. Chambers, and in particular the Court's statement that legislative prayer is "simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country."  I don't think that's an entirely accurate summary of what legislative prayer has meant for this country.   I spend a lot of time discussing Catholicism.  A fury erupted in 1832 when the first Catholic chaplain was elected.  He resigned less than a year later.  And it wasn't until 2000 that we had the next Catholic chaplain.  During that period, particularly in the 1840s and 1850s, some Protestants worked hard to end the chaplaincies altogether on the fear that Catholics would take them over.  As the incident with Zed indicates, what happened to Catholics then seems to be happening to other religious groups now -- a frequent church/state theme these days.  Anyway, the piece is here.  If you happen to read the piece and have comments, do tell me what you think.

Posted by Chris Lund on November 19, 2008 at 07:42 PM in Religion | Permalink


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I consider a "moment of silence" as well as a "happy birthday" forced upon me in a public context to be a violation of my 1st Amendment rights. These compulsory practices are religious observances, as is any such public ritual, whether or not a god is involved.

Posted by: jimbino | Nov 20, 2008 1:14:02 PM

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