Tuesday, April 12, 2005

E pluribus unum

To dream of the person you would like to be is to waste the person you are

An acquaintance of mine who lives down in Texas recently expressed his intention to write a letter to the editor of a local newpaper pointing out that the National Day of Prayer is for all Americans. The basic point is that here in the United States of America, all of our laws and the powers of our government are constrained and supported by our Constitution. The First Ammendment states that with regard to religion "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

This phrase, known as the Establishment Clause, has been the subject of much debate, including arguments over whether it means that religion should be kept completely out of government. Yet conservative, libertarian, and liberal students of Constitutional law tend to agree that, at the very least, the First Ammendment prohibits any kind of religious favoritism or exclusion. That means that contrary to some opinion, the NDP is not a "Christian" day. It isn't a day that (generally conservative) Christians simply choose to celebrate as a group. When you make it into federal law, you open it up to everyone, which is why people who want to push religious agendas in legislation need to think long and hard about the ramifications of their proposals.

Yet many cities defer to the National Day of Prayer Task Force for organization of local NDP observances. The NDP Task Force, while it recognizes that the NDP is open to all faiths, restricts its own activities to promoting (Judeo-) Christian activies and participants. This was the cause of my Texan acquaintence's lament as his town tpyically defers to the local NDP Task Force coordinator despite that fact, as he puts it, his town "has Jews, Muslims, Baha'i, Buddhists, Mormons, Wiccan/Pagans" as well as Christians. Nor is this de facto control of the NDP by an exlcusive group a rare situation.

The disappointment some express over this situation is not simply a political or religious sectarian sentiment. One does not require government approval or endorsement to practice methods of realizing suchness. Eventually the United States of America will become a reference in history books. Yet while it exists it has the power and responsibility to equally protect the freedom of religous expression of all its citizens. What better way to celebrate one of the founding principles of the United States than to have all faiths united each year and sharing their messages of compassion and wisdom?

Rather than respond to those who might wish to usurp religious expression in America as (Judeo-) Christian only or Christian-first with antagonism or criticism, even if one feels that specific objections to such groups or individuals are justified, why not use the spirit of equanamity and the support of the Constitution to join in sincere interfaith activities with those who preach sectarian favoritism and embrace the right to exercise one's faith through the federally sanctioned day of religious observance? Let those who might otherwise look on other faiths with fear or suspicion have the opportunity to get to know people who do not hold their beliefs. Not as a competition or as an advertisment for a particular faith, but as a means of reaching out in loving-kindness.

This year the NDP will fall on May 5th. If you are a resident of the United States, what kind of observance is being planned where you live?

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