Russell D Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tells us that government prayer-fests aren’t sectarian at all because they’re all over the place.
Conservative evangelicals don’t want government support for our faith, because we believe God created all consciences free and a state-coerced act of worship isn’t acceptable to God. Moreover, we believe the gospel isn’t in need of state endorsement or assistance. Wall Street may need government bailouts but the Damascus Road never does.
In fact, most of us support voluntary public prayer not because we oppose the separation of church and state but because we support it.
After all, at issue in this dispute, is the supposed “sectarian” nature of these public prayers. Few suggest that any invocation at all is unconstitutional — especially since invocations have been going on in such forums since the Founding Era. The problem is that these prayers are specifically Christian or specifically Jewish or specifically Jewish or specifically Wiccan, or what have you.
Notice the calm majoritarian confidence of that dismissal of people who do suggest that any invocation at all is unconstitutional, and the breezy citation of longstanding practice as if it justified anything (hello slavery, hello footbinding, hello genital mutilation).
When we allow evangelicals to pray as evangelicals, Catholics to pray as Catholics, Muslims to pray as Muslims, Jews to pray as Jews, we are not undermining political pluralism in our democracy, we’re upholding it.
That’s why these prayers are not an establishment of religion. The clergyperson offering the invocation isn’t an extension of the government. His or her prayers aren’t state-written or state-approved.
If this is the case, why even bother with invocations, from multiple religious voices, in an increasingly diverse American public square? Such invocations serve to remind us that we are more than extensions of the state. Our consciences are accountable to a higher tribunal than any government. It’s that sense of conscience and human integrity that has led this country to support minority rights, respect for opposing viewpoints, and a limit on the power of government.
He’s claiming that reminding us of “a higher tribunal” is not an establishment of religion. He’s wrong; that’s exactly what it is.
If a belief in a “higher tribunal” were what’s required, why would slavery have lasted so long, or gotten started at all? Why would minority rights have been so very unsupported for so very long? What does Russell Moore think he’s talking about?