Wingnut Lawyer Conflates Criticism With Censorship

Wingnut Lawyer Conflates Criticism With Censorship August 9, 2011

Kelly Shackleford, one of the looniest of the Christian right legal brigade — a small step above Larry Klayman and Matthew Staver, perhaps, which is a lot like being a tiny bit more stable than Lindsay Lohan — doesn’t seem to understand that criticism is not the same thing as censorship. He begins with this nonsensical statement:

Prayer is one of the greatest of American traditions. It dates back to the founding of this country. In addition to an American spirit of freedom, boldness, and independence, prayer reflects an important counterbalancing American spirit – humility.

Sorry, it isn’t humility. It is, in fact, a massive ego pretending to be humble. This is quite normal in religious right circles, this faux claim of humility — “this doesn’t have anything to do with me, it’s all about the glory of God.” But that’s absurd. Claiming that you speak to God and that your prayers will change the world is not humility, it’s arrogance. It’s the same thing we hear from athletes who give credit to God for their wins. They think it sounds humble but it sounds like the exact opposite — they’re saying that God likes them better than their opponents, that God favors them so much that he makes them successful on the playing field over others. It’s the opposite of humility. If you have to declare how humble you are, you aren’t being humble at all.

So why are some people attacking a prayer event in Houston and some even planning to protest? Critics argue that it violates the Establishment Clause: Texas Governor Rick Perry should not have called for a prayer event, and the event should not be Christian, even though everyone is welcome to attend. These critics are misguided and wrong on both complaints.

A very well built straw man. No one is arguing that the prayer event is a violation of the Establishment clause, they’re arguing that Gov. Perry’s involvement with it is a violation. As I’ve argued, I don’t think that’s a good legal argument and I don’t think anyone’s going to win a court case on it. But it’s hardly an incoherent argument. Jefferson and Madison would both have supported it strongly. But no one is arguing that the event itself, paid for by the American Family Association, is unconstitutional. You want to rent out a stadium and get a bunch of people together and pray, knock yourself out.

But that doesn’t mean people can’t protest against it and can’t criticize the people who put it on, including Gov. Perry. And the title of Shackleford’s article — Protesting Prayer? A Lesson on Religious Freedom — shows that he thinks such protests violate someone’s religious freedom. And that is quite ridiculous.

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  • Wes

    In the religious right mind, “freedom” equates to “power over others.” Protesting their events violates their “freedom” because it deprives them of their ability to shut their opponents up.

  • abb3w

    Ed Brayton: Sorry, it isn’t humility. It is, in fact, a massive ego pretending to be humble.

    Or at least, prayer in public is.

    And furthermore, is condemned as such in Matthew 6:5-6.

    I’m not sure you would get Madison to support the antiestablishment argument strongly, given his own choices in practice and his writings on the matter (EG). However, he’d certainly not be wildly enthusiastic; would be even less so at the sectarian nature of the guest list; and would abhor the notion of it serving as precedent to considering the United States a “Christian Nation”.

  • felix

    Off Topic:

    Ed, I think your Dispatches front page would look a lot cleaner and easier to read if you didn’t have the “Share This: Facr Book, Stumble Upon …” line under every story.

    And it’s not much use until I’ve read the story 🙂

  • 386sx

    He seems to be under the impression that Perry actually believes all that crap, and that he actually likes all those knuckleheads he invited to speak. He’s also under the impression that people think they are “the creator”…

    “It’s actually refreshing to see a politician bowing before the Creator rather than thinking he or she is the creator.”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Prayer is one of the greatest of American traditions. It dates back to the founding of this country.

    Wow, nobody prayed before 1789 when the current constitutional form of government began in these United States. And especially nobody ever prayed before the New World was discovered.

    Prayer is even less American than apple pie.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Or at least, prayer in public is.

    Pretty much all prayer, public or private, is arrogant. To imagine that supernatural beings; and possibly even the Creator of the universe, have the time to listen to what you have to say, and possibly to alter their plan for events to accommodate your special needs, simply is not to acquaint yourself with humility.

  • bobtmarley

    Ed, off topic but new content on freethoughtblogs is not showing up until I refresh my browser. This typically happens when the browser doesn’t recognize that the locally cached copy is out of date. I’m not familiar with WordPress, but most other blog frameworks have ways of notifying the browser the its cached version is out-of-date, and that it needs to download the latest version (the one I use in particular subtly changes the URL of the content on the main page). Most likely there are “Cache” settings on the admin panel of the site, and playing around with those settings will alleviate the problem, at the expense of requiring your server to work a little harder (then again, handling double the requests because everyone is refreshing all the time is healthy for it either).

  • Chris from Europe


    I think the reason is that the response to a HTTP HEAD request contains the header “Last-Modified” with the value “Thu, 01 Jan 1970 00:00:00 GMT”, the beginning of time (for certain data types).

    Is there an e-mail address for such complaints?

  • democommie


    Saying mean things to KKKristians IS a form of oppression, to them.

  • Phillip IV

    and the event should not be Christian, even though everyone is welcome to attend.

    That “everyone is welcome to attend” is another rhetorical trick Christianists like to use to make their public performances seem less discriminatory. To understand how disingenuous it is, compare: “I’m not a racist – blacks are absolutely welcome to attend my lecture ‘How N*****s were so much better off under slavery'”.

  • Reg

    Prayer is even less American than apple pie.

    And of course, since there was apple pie long before

    America, that makes it really really Not Particularly ‘Mer’can.

  • Fifth Dentist

    “You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

    “O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.” — Mark Twain, “The War Prayer.”

  • Fifth Dentist

    “… and the event should not be Christian, even though everyone is welcome to attend.”

    Yeah, and teh gheys are perfectly free to marry people of the opposite sex. So we’re not discriminating against them. Why do they want special rights?

    And look how happy Marcus is in his sham hetero marriage.