Amanda Knief of American Atheists went on CNN to talk about the Supreme Court case concerning legislative prayers, opposite Robert Jeffress of the Southern Baptist Convention, who is pretty much completely clueless about constitutional law. Amanda did a great job. Here’s the video:
Jeffress’ argument is that the Establishment Clause only forbids Congress from officially establishing a state religion, but that simply contradicts the facts. The Congress that framed the Bill of Rights considered multiple wordings of the First Amendment that would only have done that and opted for a much broader ruling. It doesn’t say “Congress shall not establish a state religion” it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Here’s one wording that was rejected:
Congress shall not make any law, infringing the rights of conscience or establishing any Religious Sect or Society.
It was voted down. Here’s another:
Congress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination of religion in preference to another, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of conscience be infringed.
James Madison, the primary author of the First Amendment, argued that it forbid even the appointment of chaplains for Congress and the military, which bears directly on the question of legislative prayer. The question I have for Jeffress and everyone else who is okay with what so many city councils are doing is this: Why is it so important to you that others have to listen to your prayers? Every person at a city council meeting can pray silently any time they want. If the council wants to have a prayer before the meeting, they can do so in their offices before they start the meeting. The attendees at the meeting can pray before the meeting starts, individually or as a group. Why does it matter to you so much that others who don’t wish to pray have to stand by silently while you do? I think the answer to that question is patently obvious.