By Harold Pease, Ph. D
In a typical workweek prayer is said every morning in the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives. Each House invites and pays a Christian minister to pray each morning they are in session. Ministers apply for this privilege to pray for a week and they come from every part of the country. This has been so since the 1st Congress in 1789 some 225 years ago and will continue as long as we are a Christian nation and liberal justices do not become the majority of the U. S Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision this month prayer was still ruled to be constitutional. Such affirms our nation’s faith in God as Sovereign Lord of this nation. This honored the historic separation of “an organization of religion” and State, as outlined in the 1st Amendment, but not the separation of God from the government wanted by opponents.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote defending the decision: “Prayer in this case has a permissible ceremonial purpose. It is not an unconstitutional establishment of religion.” It serves “to solemnize the occasion, so long as the practice over time is not exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other faith or belief.” Such had been expected as oral arguments given last November lasted but an hour and the position was strongly supported by House and Senate members with 23 state attorney generals submitting written briefs in its support.
The tradition of prayer in government assemblages is long standing. The first recorded national prayer was given by Reverend Jacob Duche,’ Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the First Continental Congress Sept. 7, 1774, even before the creation of the Articles of Confederation our first constitution and government. Notice the intensity of their appeal to God to help them obtain their freedom from British rule.
“O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!
“Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen.”
Even during the Constitutional Convention, prayer was referenced as a solution to the tension in the room on June 28, 1787, when the patriarch of that assemblage, Benjamin Franklin, stood and said, addressing the Chair: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?” He continued: “I therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.” And so it has been, and is, in the new government to this day.
What is difficult to understand is why our justices today were not 9-0 in support of what has always been constitutional? Four were clearly out of harmony with the Founding Fathers. If they do not wish to follow the Constitution on this issue of exceptional clarity, what other areas might they distort as well? In this case one additional Supreme Court Justice can change 240 years of practice. So far the people can pray in government meetings that God will assist in their deliberations. May we never forget to do so. Reaching above mere man “to illuminate our understanding,” as articulated by Benjamin Franklin in the Constitutional Convention, is the essence of our strength.