Moore, Mohler on Prayer and the Constitution

Dr. Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, both recently wrote fascinating pieces on the recent Supreme Court decision permitting “sectarian” prayer before legislative bodies. While he makes many good points, Mohler astutely highlights, and Moore focused entirely upon, one point that affects even the US military: calls from some that public prayers — for example, those in front of a military formation — must be “generic.”

The second very important argument made by Justice Kennedy is even more perceptive and, in the long run, more important. He asserted that the government has no competence under the Constitution to evaluate prayers in terms of content. Specifically, he said that the Establishment Clause actually would prevent the government from determining the content of any prayer — especially in terms of some supposed standard of nonsectarianism.

Put bluntly, government has no right to declare that the only God welcome in public is a “generic God.” That is a profoundly important constitutional argument…

The US government can no more create a “non-sectarian religion” than it can Establish any sectarian one.

Dr. Mohler raised a final point that may be obvious to some but bears repeating: Religious freedom applies to all:

[As Christians, we] must not only concede this point, we must make this point. We cannot be constitutionally offended when Buddhists pray at the opening of Congress as Buddhists, when Muslims open sessions of the town council meeting with Muslim prayers, or even when the rabbi prays in accordance with his Jewish faith.

This has been a point made here many times before (including about the Hindu who opened Congress with an invocation). It is entirely expected, and acceptable, that a person of a certain faith will pray in accordance with that faith. Of course, within the military that appears to have been widely accepted, as there is no record that a Christian has ever filed a complaint because of a non-Christian prayer at an event.

In a society that values religious freedom, people will naturally be exposed to religious beliefs different than their own. It is the competition of ideas, not their suppression, that fosters freedom.

Besides, as Justice Kennedy wrote, mere offense — even the feeling of “exclusion” — is not government coercion. And for an adult, their “sense of affront” does not violate the US Constitution.