By Susan Jacoby
If any more evidence were required that a nation whose Constitution guarantees individual religious liberty does not need members of the clergy presiding over and pontificating at public events, it was provided at the 9/11 memorial ceremony by the numerous references to God and an afterlife from family members of those who died in the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. Many talked about their belief that a spouse, a parent, a sister, or a brother was “watching over” them from heaven and that they would see their loved one again. Obviously, I don’t believe in family reunions in an afterlife but my own view is irrelevant. It is the absolute right of any American citizen to stand up and make a personal statement of faith on such an occasion as long as it is personal and does not presume to speak for other citizens or the nation as a whole. At the same time, is absolutely wrong to to impose group obeisance to religion, whether a particular faith or a general belief in God, by drafting a member of the clergy to provide a religious imprimatur for public ceremonies or the conduct of public business. It is wrong even though such homage to religion has become a common, extra-constitutional practice. It is wrong when the prayers are as bland and nondenominational as those now offered by Senate and House chaplains
The real question is why those who want to force their religion into every aspect of public life think that compulsion benefits either religion or government. ]…]The heaven in which Americans believe is a Christian long-term care facility. Judaism holds much hazier ideas about heaven, and a Jewish paradise definitely doesn’t involve Jesus’s intervention at the Last Judgement and his sitting at the right hand of God the Father. Religion has done very well in the United States, largely because the Constitution’s deliberate omission of God and its prohibition against government favoritism of any faith have encouraged a pluralism that existed nowhere else in the world until well into the twentieth century. So why do the representatives of religious conservatism feel impelled to force a minority (albeit a growing one) of religious skeptics, on every possible occasion, to listen to official accolades to a God in whom they do not believe?