Sadly, commentator Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. repeats the babble of religious conservatives who claim that the "free exercise" of religion includes the right to impose their own religion on everyone else at government meetings or other government-sponsored institutions, including public school classrooms ("Freedom of, not from, religion," June 1).
The repetition of religious formulas of prayer or even extemporaneous forms of prayer as part of a public event is an imposition of religion at that event. And if it is done as part of a government activity, it is a government-sponsored imposition of religion.
If a general monument to war dead or to veterans located on government property is a common Christian symbol, then it not only puts government in the position of sponsoring Christianity, but the monument silently excludes all non-Christians who sacrificed just as much.
The principle of the religion clause of the First Amendment (and the prohibition of religious tests in Article VI of the Constitution) is that government may not impose religion in any fashion or through any means.
The fact that Congress itself makes a habit of opening its sessions with prayer is an abuse. But it is also somewhat irrelevant, since there is no forced attendance and that action precedes any roll call to establish a quorum. It has no effect on anyone not in the House or Senate chambers.
But the imposition of prayers on pupils in class or the public in a government meeting hall is actually un-Christian. "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them," Jesus admonished his followers. "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray [in public places] that they may be seen."
Ronald P. Bowers, Timonium
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