A lot of people have a fundamental misconception about the First Amendment, stemming from the phrase “church and state”—they think that as long as you don’t favor any particular individual church, you can establish religion as much as you want. Even if you’re a state legislator.
At least two recent Pennsylvania House of Representatives sessions have opened with sectarian Christian prayers — those exclusive to Christianity as opposed to general prayers — despite many surrounding legal issues and scrutiny from at least one prominent national organization concerned with the mixing of religion and government
The First Amendment states that Congress (and by extension the states as well) shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. As individual citizens, of course, state lawmakers are perfectly free to pray as much or as little as they like to whoever or whatever they like. In their capacity as lawmakers, however, they are prohibited from exploiting their position of power for the purpose of establishing religion. It’s not a hard point to grasp, and in fact I don’t think it’s any lack of understanding that prevents them from keeping their behavior within the bounds of law. It’s simply that they do not respect the law itself.
This is not because they are bad or wicked people. It’s the nature of their religion: their faith requires that they have no respect for any law that interferes with the goal of establishing the supremacy of the Christian faith, by any means necessary. To do less, to allow the laws of men to take precedence over the preaching of the Gospel, is to give the law power over God. And they can’t have that.
This is why it’s important for us to do what we can to help spread the good news of atheism, and set people free from their ancient and primitive superstitions. Those who are not free, who are still bound by the dogmas and intolerance of the past, cannot help but put their own personal religious beliefs above the law, even when they’re the ones making the law. Our only defense against theocracy is to spread unbelief, and thereby deprive our irrational and superstitious leaders of the basis for their political power.