Bill Stanley proposes a bill that would allow government officials to pray in their official capacity.

Bill Stanley, a state senator in Virginia, has decided to waste time and money by proposing an absurd bill.

“We have to return prayer to the public forum,” Stanley said. “It’s long overdue.”

“It’s time we (Virginia) take a stand and qualify in our Constitution that religious liberty is one of the most sacred of all our rights,” he added. “We have to protect the religious liberty intended by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The proposed amendment (SJ287) would add language to the freedom of religion provision that “the Commonwealth shall not coerce any person to participate in any prayer or religious activity, but shall ensure that any person shall have the right to pray individually or corporately in a private or public setting so long as such prayer does not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting or assembly.”

The amendment specifies that “citizens as well as elected officials and employees of the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall have the right to pray on government premises and public property so long as such prayers abide within the same parameters placed upon any free speech under similar circumstances.”

It’s a waste of time because prayer already exists in the public forum by private citizens.  People bow their heads and pray until fall asleep, the world goes on as if no prayer had been uttered at all, and religious liberty is preserved.

It’s also absurd because of that last part.  The government must represent people of all religions, and therefore must remain neutral with regards to religion.  As a private citizen you can pray until you pass out from lack of oxygen, but when you enter the state house or are otherwise working on behalf of the government, you are no longer functioning as a private citizen, and you cannot endorse a sectarian religion.  That’s why a senator can go to a Christian church on Sunday, lead a bible study at their house, and even pray silently while actual governmental debate is taking place (though I wish they wouldn’t), but you cannot open governmental meetings with a Christian prayer.  Period.

“The ACLU and other secular groups are attacking small communities, intimidating and threatening them with lawsuits to prevent the people from exercising their right to express their faith,” Stanley said.

In the deranged world of the wingnut, saying “We want to stop you from breaking the law” is tantamount to intimidation.  Perhaps that’s what I should’ve said to the cop who pulled me over the other day: “stop attacking me by intimidating me and threatening me with arrest.”  I’m sure that would’ve gone splendidly.

And if government officials, which is who this law is really about, not “the people”, do have a right to express their faith in their capacity as government employees, as Stanley believes, then the threat of a lawsuit is an empty one.  Of course, it isn’t an empty threat, and Stanley (and anybody who follows similar cases and knows their consistent outcomes) knows this.

“They are trying to overrule the will of many with the will of one. This silliness has to stop.”

The will of one?  Is there really only one person who cares about the separation of church and state?  What an obnoxiously stupid thing to say.

And even if religious liberty (which can only be realized through government neutrality) were only the will of one, it would be the will of one…plus the Constitution.  Every single American, Christians included, have a right to religious liberty, rather than to a government that appears to value one religion over others (this is a right for which Christians would be clamoring were they not in the majority).  The will of the many does not override the rights of all.  In fact, the Bill of Rights (and many other laws) are there for the specific task of protecting all Americans, including minorities, from the will of the many.  There are plenty of things that, even if the majority wanted them, would never, ever be allowed, and rightly so.  Governmental preference of religion is among them.

It is precisely the religious liberty intended by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that Bill Stanley is attempting to subvert.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Jeff

    “…but shall ensure that any person shall have the right to pray individually or corporately in a private or public setting so long as such prayer does not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting or assembly.””

    Isn’t prayer *inherently* a disruption of a government meeting? There’s no practical reason to do it, and it serves no legitimate function in governance, so to do it at all during an official meeting in an official capacity would automatically be a disruption.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “It’s time we (Virginia) take a stand and qualify in our Constitution that religious liberty is one of the most sacred of all our rights,” he added.

    All irony aside, Happy Religious Freedom Day

    Today is Religious Freedom Day, which celebrates the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, passed in 1786…

  • TychaBrahe

    I love how people still make the ACLU the whipping boy for People Oppressing Christians with the Law. It’s the FFRF that’s doing most of the suing.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    TychaBrahe,
    Ironically, the ACLU only defends 1st amendment issues. They would defend this bill IF they saw it as a free speech/freedom of religion issue. IF.
    I laugh when some bozo says the ACLU defended some pedophile or murderer. Uh, no. Not against the crimes they may have committed. Only if it thinks their freedom of speech or of religion is being denied .


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