The atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently attacked a South Carolina school board for opening its meetings with an invocation. They find it unacceptable that a group of elected officials begin their meetings with an invocation like the one board member Beth Watson recently offered: "Our Creator and Sustainer, we pray for the health and well-being of our students and their families. We pray for all our employees who work so hard on behalf of all our students." However, the school board's prayer is in keeping with the practice established by Congress and upheld by the courts, and reflects the sentiment of South Carolina's constitution which begins "grateful to God for our liberties."
Our friends at the Alliance Defending Freedom have written an excellent defense of the practice of public meetings opening with prayer. Attorneys Brett Harvey and David Cortman remind us that:
The central case on this subject is Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), where the Court approved the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of opening each day of its sessions with a prayer by a chaplain paid with taxpayer dollars. Marsh has been repeatedly mischaracterized by some advocacy groups in recent months, but its holding is clear. In Marsh, Chief Justice Burger concluded:
The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country. From colonial times through the founding of the Republic and ever since, the practice of legislative prayer has coexisted with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.
In fact, the Court noted that agreement was reached on the final language of the Bill of Rights on September 25, 1789, just three days after Congress authorized opening prayers by paid chaplains. Clearly then, “To invoke divine guidance on a public body . . . is not, in these circumstances, an ‘establishment’ of religion or a step toward establishment; it is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country.”
We need to keep in mind that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is not some benign group that merely wants to maintain what it thinks should be a separation of Church and State. FFRF is an aggressively anti-religious organization that sees religion as a threat to civilization. For instance, it characterizes the Ten Commandments as epitomizing "the childishness, the vindictiveness, the sexism, the inflexibility and the inadequacies of the bible as a book of morals." It encourages people to abandon their faith and its website offers a "DeBaptismal Certificate" which states "I categorically reject the creeds, dogmas, and superstitions of my former religion."
President George Washington in his Farewell Address on September 19, 1796 urged the nation:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them."
Thomas Jefferson, whose statement about a separation of Church and State atheists love to misinterpret, gave America this warning (which is carved into his memorial in Washington, D.C.):
"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"
Make no mistake, Atheists groups like FFRF do not want to merely preserve a so-called separation of Church and State. They want to remake America into something that the Founders never intended, and which, as they warned, will destroy the fabric and freedom of the nation.