Government

NOTIONS: A prayer for common sense on the issue of prayer

January 15, 2007

Dear God, please hear my prayer. We need a little divine guidance here (or at least a few thunderbolts of common sense).

I pray today not for relief from the usual litany of woes (You hear enough about those). I ask, instead, that You help us past a nagging distraction so we might move on to more pressing concerns.

As You know (because You know all), there's a lot weighing on us in these little Edens called Earth, America and Indiana. And these concurrent struggles of war and poverty, sickness and strife, crime and punishment, cruelty (to one another and the planet), evil, madness, mourning-stuff like that-certainly deserve our and Your attention.

But at a time when battles rage, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives; when countless children are abused; when we need good jobs with good wages; when many are sick, overweight and filling their bodies with deadly chemicals; when too many of our neighbors are malnourished; when hundreds of thousands can't afford even basic medical care; when families must sleep on the streets and in shelters; when crime is escalating; when we can't or won't meet our long-term obligations to the men and women who fight our fires and patrol our streets; when local governments need to consolidate to control cost; when we can't or won't educate our children well or immunize them against disease-we're arguing about, well, talking to You. And we're spending an ark-load of time and money doing so-time and money that otherwise could be spent on the litany of woes noted above.

And from what I've read about You and Your benevolent, kind and inclusive nature, this isn't the kind of thing You'd deem worthy of our worry.

Here's the problem, God, and through this prayer, I'm hoping You can help us out:

When our leaders gather to govern us, they like to start their day by asking for Your help. In other words, they want to pray. And for a few centuries, that's worked well.

But here in Indiana, we went too far.

You see (and I know You see all), the fellows who started this country were pretty astute. Many of them were deists who, while they believed in You, skipped the factional formalities that sometimes trigger confrontation.

And having seen the oft-bloody consequences of mixing government and religion overseas, they decided to do things differently here. To safeguard each and every citizen's ability to worship freely, they prohibited our governments from adopting or endorsing a particular religion.

But alas, we sometimes forget. And some begin to believe that "majority rules" applies to religion, just as it does to many other aspects of our democratic republic. And invariably, some wellmeaning public servant figures that if the majority of voters and legislators worship You in a certain way, then, by God (sorry), everyone should do the same-or at least sit quietly and watch.

So it came to pass that the Indiana House of Representatives made the vast majority of its start-the-day prayers reflective of a particular religion. Predictably, some of those who are free to worship You (or not) in other ways objected. And a judicial enforcer of the Founding Fathers' rules sided with the objectors.

And now we have a feud of, shall we say, Biblical proportions-one that's reported to have already cost taxpayers more than six figures to fight.

For a while, our legislators reacted to this judicial spanking by taking prayer off the podium altogether. "If we can't have our government-sanctioned, single-religion prayers," they seemed to reason, "then we won't have any official prayers at all." During this time, those who chose to pray their single-religion prayers did so at the back of the House chamber.

But last week, something interesting happened: The newly elected Speaker put prayer-of the non-sectarian kind-back at the front of the House.

By many accounts, the Speaker's prayer was inclusive, thoughtful and wellwritten. The prayer was highly praised by folks on all sides. Even the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represents those opposed to government-sanctioned, single-religion Statehouse prayer said this type of invocation was "all that we have ever asked for."

Such was the public show-and an apparently wise solution.

But behind the scenes, the same new House speaker has decided to press on with the appeal of the legal case, thereby continuing to fight for the right to impose sectarian prayer in our Statehouse.

The pursuit of that case will, of course, cost us taxpayers and our government officials more time, more money and more distraction from that pressing litany of woes.

Worse, it will say: "Founding Fathers be damned. Here in Indiana, we believe in religion of the majority, by the majority and for the majority."

Dear God, for the sake of all who worship You (or don't) in every way, I pray that the appeals fail and the inclusive invocations prevail.



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com
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