Prayer, Politics, and Police Departments

“We live in a Christian nation, founded by Christians, with Christian laws, and therefore Christianity plays a very important role in American government.”

If you believe this, you are most likely a devout Christian who has not studied history. Including the history of the Christian church and its effect on governments, laws, and punishment.

Please don’t be offended – I’m not attacking your religion or your beliefs. I support your right to believe anything that you want, and I will fight for your right to believe anything that you want, so long as it is not hurting other people.

I don’t support anyone’s belief that they should incorporate their religion into our government, however, whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Hitlerist. There are very good reasons for the separation of church and state, lessons learned over thousands of years of oppression, torture, and religious persecution at the hands of religious governments across the world.

Why does our Constitution forbid the establishment of religion by the government, and what exactly does the Establishment Clause prohibit?

Law Enforcement Agencies Can Not and Should Not Promote Religion

The battle fought between some Christians, who would like to see Christianity taught and spread through the vehicle of government, and those who are determined to keep religion out of government, has been raging since long before our country was born out of the American Revolution.

It’s a battle that has been fought and continues to be fought on many fronts – in our schools, in government buildings, in courthouses, and in our legislatures. One place that the battle is currently being fought is with law enforcement agencies across the nation.

Law enforcement’s job is to enforce the law. The secular laws as written by our secular government. Not God’s law, the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran.

No law enforcement agency should give the appearance that they are a Christian organization spreading Christian beliefs, any more than any law enforcement agency should give the appearance that they are a Muslim organization, spreading Muslim beliefs.

And yet, some law enforcement officials will not voluntarily leave religion out of their job. I suppose, if you believe that God commands you to preach the gospel at all times including in your job as a government official, it is going to be up to the courts to enforce the First Amendment and force you to follow the law.

Tega Cay, SC Prayer Monument

A “prayer monument” placed outside the Tega Cay, SC police department, and officials’ response to criticism of the monument, has caused a bit of a stir:

It contains a prayer often called “The Officer’s Prayer,” which has now been edited by city leaders because some were offended by the word “Lord…”

Days after it was placed there, complaints started after the monument appeared on Facebook.

“We started getting a lot of negative backlash, and they started reaching out to council members,” City Manager Charles Funderburk said. “It wasn’t just one person.”

In response, the City plastered over the word “Lord” where it appeared on the monument – not exactly a good fix since the text is still an obvious Christian prayer and the word “Lord” is still visible, just a different color.

Reportedly, the City plastered over the word “Lord” to avoid the potential lawsuits that will be filed to get them to remove the well-intentioned but obviously Christian symbol from government property.

Considering that the monument is still there, is still obviously a Christian symbol, and the half-hearted attempt to remove the word “Lord” was unsuccessful, a lawsuit is still a possibility.

Promotion of Religion by Law Enforcement on Facebook

Sheriff’s departments nationwide, including the Horry County Sheriff’s Office, are being criticized, and sued, for promoting Christianity on their Facebook pages.

What’s a devout Christian who’s just been elected Sheriff to do? As Lacey says over at Trial Theory:

It’s pretty simple.

  • The First Amendment protects your right to be a Christian. It protects you from the government forcing any other religion on you.
  • If you are a government official, you are the government. The First Amendment protects every citizen, regardless of their faith, from you forcing your religion on them.
  • Facebook will let you have a personal profile. You probably have one already. Thatis where you spread the gospel and share religious posts with your Facebook friends.
  • Use the government Facebook page for government business or announcements. It’s not for your personal business or religious announcements.

Follow the law. Respect the Constitution.

What is the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause?

It’s one short sentence in the First Amendment:

“Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion”

What does that mean? At a minimum, it means:

  • There will not be a national or official church in America;
  • The government cannot compel attendance at a church;
  • The government cannot compel financial contributions to a church;
  • The government cannot interfere with a religion’s doctrines or selection of church officials;
  • Religious officials cannot be given governmental power; and
  • The government cannot provide benefits (or penalties) to one religion and not others.

Beyond that, the Courts have been somewhat divided on Establishment Clause issues. The Supreme Court has held that:

  • Government funding must be neutral between religious and non-religious institutions;
  • Taxpayer funds cannot be given to religious institutions for the purpose of communicating religious doctrine;
  • Public schools cannot lead schoolchildren in prayer or Bible readings, even if it is voluntary;
  • Similarly, prayer is prohibited at graduation ceremonies and school sports events; but
  • Prayer is permitted at legislature and town council meetings, at least when the legislature or town council represents that prayers of any faith will be accepted.

When it comes to religious monuments (like the prayer monument at the Tega Cay Police Department, the Court’s decisions have been less clear. For example:

  • A nativity scene surrounded by other holiday decorations in a shopping district was not unconstitutional; but
  • A nativity scene alone in a courthouse violated the Establishment Clause; and
  • A prominent display of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse was also unconstitutional.

When someone says, “We live in a Christian nation, founded by Christians, with Christian laws,” I ask, “Do we?”

Our nation was founded, in part, on the principle of freedom from religious persecution. Many of the earliest settlers came here to escape religious persecution – including Christians and people of other faiths. Our nation today is made up of people of every world religion. I promise you that non-Christians and many Christians in America do not want to be ruled by and in the name of any particular religion – whether it is Christian or a Caliphate.

We don’t want it, and we will not accept it.

I, for one, do not want to live in a Christian version of the Islamic State. Religion has no place in government. I tolerate your religion, just as I demand that you tolerate my religion and my neighbor’s religion. More than anything else, that is what defines America.

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

Grant B. Smaldone is a SC criminal defense lawyer based in Charleston, SC. If you have been charged with a crime in the Charleston, SC area, call Charleston criminal defense lawyer Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or send an email to set up a free initial consultation today.