By / Oct 7

By now, most of America knows the name Amy Coney Barrett. For many, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court became a familiar name during her confirmation hearing to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017. At the time, as Barrett was sitting before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Diane Feinstein aggressively questioned her ability to serve as a judge on account of her religious faith. Summing up the intense exchange was Fienstein’s now infamous remark to Barrett, “The dogma lives loudly within you.” But often overlooked was Barrett’s response to the line of questioning: “If you’re asking whether I take my Catholic faith seriously, I do, though I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge.”

Despite the senator’s protestations, Barrett was confirmed to the 7th Circuit, where she continues to serve. And in the days since she was officially nominated by President Trump to serve as an associate justice on the Supreme Court following the death of the late Justice Ruth Bader Gisnburg, Barrett’s life, faith, record, and judicial philosophy have come under tremendous scrutiny. In fact, before she was even nominated—when there was only speculation that the president was considering Barrett—multiple media outlets published outlandish attacks upon Barrett, attempting to draw links between the judge’s faith community and the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with Barrett’s beliefs, the most important thing about a judicial nominee is not his or her faith or religious background but the nominee’s judicial philosophy—a jurist’s understanding of and approach to the law. In fact, attempting to impose a religious test upon public officials or judicial nominees is strictly prohibited by Article VI of the Constitution. And concerning her own approach to impartiality as a judge, Barrett has said, “I think one of the great traditions in this country is that judges participate in the law, participate in the decision of cases, and rule even when they disagree with the outcome.”

As Russell Moore insists, these arguments over the Supreme Court nominee’s religious faith are an unnecessary distraction. And beyond these trivialities, there is much to commend Amy Coney Barrett as a potential Supreme Court justice. Below, I explore only a few of the features of her judicial philosophy as evidence of why I believe Judge Barrett would make an excellent addition to our nation’s highest court.

Summary of Barrett’s judicial philosophy

At the time of her nomination, the ERLC described Barrett’s judicial philosophy this way:

“Judge Barrett is a proponent of originalism, a manner of interpreting the Constitution that begins with the text and attempts to give that text the meaning it had when it was adopted; and textualism, a method of statutory interpretation that relies on the plain text of a statute to determine its meaning. Judge Barrett has previously voiced support for the judicial doctrine of stare decisis (or, following existing precedent) while maintaining that prior precedent is not sacrosanct.”

Twin methodologies

As seen in that summary, an important part of Barrett’s judicial philosophy is her commitment to the “twin interpretive methodologies” of textualism and originalism, an approach to interpretation that the judge shares with the late Justice Antonin Scalia for whom she clerked at the Supreme Court. The two terms essentially refer to the same methodology, with textualism corresponding to statutory interpretation and originalism applying to constitutional interpretation. 

According to Barrett, originalists “insist that judges must adhere to the original public meeting of the Constitution’s text.” Elsewhere she wrote, “For an originalist, the meaning of the text is fixed so long as it is discoverable.” For Barrett, a law means what the law was understood to mean when it was enacted. In this sense, Barrett’s originalism stands in contrast with the “living constitutionalism” of more progressive jurists. 

Similarly, Barrett has argued that textualists “emphasize that words mean what they say, not what a judge thinks that they ought to say.” A commitment to textualism, therefore, signals Barrett’s recognition of the fact that judges are not legislators. A key reason one can have confidence in her jurisprudence is her assertion that “Fidelity to the law means fidelity to the text as written.” 

Stare decisis

Alongside her commitment to textualism and originalism, another critical aspect of Barrett’s judicial philosophy is her view of stare decisis. Legal professionals, as well as those who followed recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, will remember that the doctrine of stare decisis refers to legal precedent. It is a judicial policy that means “to stand by the things decided.” And it signifies a commitment to following existing precedent in deciding cases before the court. Barrett has described the doctrine as “ a sensible rule” because, as she notes, “among other things, it protects the reliance interests of those who have structured their affairs in accordance with the Court’s existing cases.” 

Undoubtedly, much will be made of her view of stare decisis should Barrett sit again before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation. At the Supreme Court, challenges to abortion are measured by the precedents established in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. And with the current ideological makeup of the court, proponents of abortion will desire for Barrett to affirm a strong commitment to stare decisis in hopes of rebuffing any legal challenges to these precedents.

Barrett affirms the importance of stare decisis as means of maintaining doctrinal stability. She recognizes that the court’s legitimacy hinges in part on its consistency. But even so, she acknowledges that the doctrine is only one means of promoting such stability. While she does recognize that certain rulings are secure as “superprecedents” (e.g., Marbury v. Madison; Brown v. Board of Education), she denies that such rulings are secured on the grounds of stare decisis. And notably, in a law review article Barrett specifically mentions that the decision in Roe has not achieved superprecedent status.

Conclusion

It is unreasonable for any group to expect that a jurist would issue only rulings consistent with the views of those who supported his or her nomination. But many times in recent decades, religious conservatives have faced bitter disappointment not because of a judge’s commitment to upholding the law but because of the apparent disregard of numerous judges for their former approach to jurisprudence prior to obtaining a lifetime judicial appointment. And while there is no way to know for certain, the judicial philosophy of Judge Barrrett gives every reason for confidence in the trajectory of her future as a jurist and, potentially, as a Supreme Court Justice.

By / Sep 25

Recent media coverage and statements by public figures about Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a federal judge being considered for the Supreme Court, have raised concerns of a religious test being applied to judicial candidates who are associated with Christian groups. 

For example, Newsweek published a piece with the title, “How Charismatic Catholic Groups Like Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise Inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’” (The reference was to Margart Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the 1985 dystopian novel about women who are enslaved by quasi-Christian theocrats.) Newsweek later issued a correction stating, “The book’s author, Margaret Atwood, has never specifically mentioned the group as being the inspiration for her work,” but has not retracted the misleading article.

Similarly, the wire service Reuter’s published an article that was originally titled, “Handmaid’s Tale? U.S. Supreme Court candidate’s religious community under scrutiny.” The article claims that Barrett was an unconfirmed member of People of Praise, a “charismatic, ecumenical and covenant community” that includes “Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals and other denominational and nondenominational Christians.”

Reuter’s also points out that from 1970 to 2016, People of Praise used the term “handmaiden” for women leaders. The group said the term handmaid was used by the group to mirror Jesus’s mother Mary, who called herself “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38, NAB). The group also said in 2018 they stopped using “handmaiden” because “the meaning of this term has shifted dramatically in our culture in recent years.”

What is a religious test?

A religious test is a requirement that to hold public office a person must either hold or reject a particular set of religious beliefs or must be formally affiliated with a particular religious group. Religious tests are used to secure the bond between the state and a particular religion and to prohibit anyone not associated with that religion from holding political office.

For example, religious tests were used in England to “establish” the Church of England as an official national church. As Alan E. Brownstein and Jud Campbell explain, the Test Acts, in force from the 1660s until the 1820s, required all government officials to take an oath disclaiming the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and affirming the Church of England’s teachings about receiving the sacrament. These laws effectively excluded Catholics and members of dissenting Protestant sects (such as Baptists) from exercising political power. 

Are religious tests legal?

No, religious tests are unconstitutional. In the only explicit reference to religion in the U.S. Constitution, Article VI, Clause 3 states, “. . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This clause explicitly bans any religious requirement to hold federal office.

Unlike most parts of the Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court has never held that the Clause applies to state as well as federal office-holding under the 14th Amendment. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1961 that the court struck down religious tests applied by the states.

At that time, the Maryland state constitution said, “[N]o religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God. . . .” Roy R. Torcaso was appointed to the office of Notary Public by the governor of Maryland, but he could not receive his commission to serve because he would not declare his belief in God. Torcaso filed a lawsuit claiming the requirement violated his rights under the First and 14th Amendments. 

In the case of Torcaso v. Watkins, the U.S Supreme Court unanimously declared that the test was an unconstitutional encroachment on the freedom of religion since it effectively aided religions that profess a belief in God at the expense of any other form of belief or disbelief.

In another case, McDaniel v. Paty (1978), the Supreme Court relied on the First Amendment to strike down state laws prohibiting clergy from holding office. The court ruled that the government’s forcing a person to choose between one’s religious beliefs and the desire to seek office was an unconstitutional restriction on the free exercise of religion.

Why can’t religious tests be applied indirectly?

In 2017, Barrett was appointed a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In her confirmation hearing, California Sen. Diana Feinstein implied that Barrett couldn’t be trusted to apply the Constitution and laws objectively because she was a believing Catholic

“Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that dogma and law are two different things, and I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different,” Feinstein said. “And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”

Numerous legal scholars condemned Feinstein for her indirectly applying a religious test as a requirement for the federal judiciary. The reason this is wrong, as Gerard V. Bradley, a professor of constitutional law at Notre Dame, explains

The scope of anyone’s immunity from disqualification from office on religious bases now depends upon the meaning of the Establishment and Free Exercise of Religion Clauses, not upon Article VI. At present, the central rule enunciated by the Supreme Court for Establishment Clause jurisprudence is the “endorsement” test. It stipulates all public authority—from state and federal to the most local municipal body—must never do or say anything that a reasonable person could understand to be an “endorsement” of religion, i.e., that favors adherents over non-adherents. Nothing in the neighborhood of a religious test for office could survive application of this norm.

Shouldn’t religious beliefs be excluded from public policy?

Some Americans contend that the religious beliefs of elected or appointed officials are to be excluded from having any influence. For example, they claim that since the religious beliefs of Catholic jurists shape how they decide on the legality of abortion, it is legitimate to exclude faithful Catholics from the judiciary if, as Feinstein might say, “the dogma lives loudly” within them. 

The underlying assumption is that there are certain beliefs that are accessible to a majority, if not all people, through publically accessible reason. These are legitimate, while more narrow beliefs—based on such things as religion—are illegitimate because they are not considered publicly accessible and held by a broad majority of citizens.

This is a key premise in the argument for secular neutrality in law and public policy, which requires that all religious beliefs be checked before entering the public square. Ironically, the result is that certain religious beliefs (e.g., those that are reductionist and based on materialism) are welcomed while others (any religion that relies both on general and special revelation) are excluded.

However, even though such beliefs are openly excluded, they are still allowed to smuggle in the beliefs that the secular neutralists cannot derive from their own religious beliefs (e.g., atheists who are also materialists don’t have any basis for natural human rights, and so must borrow presuppositions from the theistic religions).

This is not to say that all religiously based arguments are legitimate or that they deserve preferential treatment in matters of law and public policy. However, to believe that religious beliefs should be excluded from the public square because they are religious is itself a belief rooted in a religious belief (i.e., a presumption of agnosticism). Since this argument is based on neither reason nor reality, there is no reason Christians should accept the myth of secular neutrality. 

By / Feb 18

What is courage? Courage is defined as “strength of mind to carry on in spite of danger or difficulty.” This Presidents Day, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on the courage shown by many of our nation’s past presidents. In his book, Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989, Michael Beschloss tackles this topic and is able to highlight many of the key figures and moments in our nation’s history.

Flawed & courageous leaders

While reading about the leaders Beschloss highlights, I expected to see bold men who led with character and faith as their guide. What I found instead was a collection of flawed leaders who, when faced with unwinnable situations, rose to the occasion, took significant personal risks, and pursued the path that they believed was best for the nation.

Unfortunately, I found myself discouraged as Beschloss showed us, again and again, the many ways that these celebrated leaders fell short in their personal lives. How, as a believer, are we supposed to celebrate the decisions these men made, courageous or not? In Romans 3:23 we read that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We see throughout Scripture that the heroes of our faith were greatly flawed and that the Lord chose to use them in incredible ways (David’s adultery, Peter’s denial, Noah’s drunkenness, Samson’s pride).

This truth could be, and often is, used to justify sin in our leaders. However, this is a dangerous misinterpretation of Scripture. We must recognize that our elected officials are fallible so that we do not put them on a pedestal that leads us to justifying their sins. The answer is not to ignore the sins, but instead to recognize that goodness of God in using us, and our leaders, in spite of our sins. We are able, as a result, to reflect on the leaders that Beschloss highlights and celebrate the ways that they were courageous.

In his book, Beschloss examines many of the nation’s  presidents in times of crisis. Each responded to their crisis in the way they considered most appropriate for the country. This collection of stories highlights the importance of the American presidency and the courage it takes to lead well. On this Presidents Day, I can not help but focus on his telling of the stories of Presidents Washington and Lincoln. These two leaders led our country through trials that are unimaginable to many of us today, and did so in a way that has shaped the lens of how we view presidential leadership and courage.

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, & hard decisions

The early presidents faced challenges that were bigger than themselves. It is no easy task to take a group of revolutionaries and turn them in to a nation of citizens. To make matters worse, the British were not following through with the treaties that had ended the Revolutionary

War. As the first president, George Washington led this fledgling nation as it faced its first major test as an independent nation. With the British attacking American ships in the Atlantic, President Washington had to choose between another war with the world power or seeking peace. Knowing that the young nation was ill-suited for another war, he pursued a policy of peace with Great Britain that would be wildly unpopular across the country. Though his treaty ultimately gained popularity, the president risked much by moving forward with such a contentious plan.

Though the hero of the Revolutionary War, Washington’s reputation as an American statesman was risked by his decision. Washington could have easily returned to Mount Vernon to avoid the public fallout of his decision. However, Washington stood by his decision courageously and weathered the storm of public outrage.

The risk to his reputation paled in comparison to the risk to the nation. The greatest danger was not the threat of external force but internal division and strife. There was strong opposition to his plan inside the country, and many wondered if this new form of government was strong enough to hold together. The United States needed a bold and courageous leader to lead her through this season, and Washington was up to the task. Hi leadership during this time placed the immature nation in the best position for survival, and later success.  

Though Washington helped prepare the country at its founding, Lincoln was forced to lead when it was broken. It is no understatement to call the Civil War the greatest challenge that the United States has faced in her history. As the war raged on, the president had many choices to make that would determine the future of our nation. As Beschloss highlights, the president faced many moments where it was reasonable to think that stopping the war for the sake of peace would be the best option. A compromise to end the war would have, by necessity, involved a provision protecting slavery. Lincoln had to choose between a compromise to avert war or a war to end a moral evil.

For President Lincoln, the soul of the nation was worth the sacrifice. He believed, correctly, that the stain of slavery had been on our nation for far too long and that peace without abolition was no real peace at all. On New Year’s Day 1863, through the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln freed slaves in all states. This showing of courage proved that, though it wouldn’t be the easiest path, he would do what it would take to build a Union better than the one before the war. Politically, the president faced countless challenges throughout his presidency, but, following Washington’s lead, Lincoln showed over and over again that he would put the nation and her people before himself.

Men like Presidents Washington and Lincoln have inspired us over the generations to expect exceptional leadership and courage from our leaders. This Presidents Day, I am able to look back through history and be grateful that we have had leaders, though flawed in many ways, that stood up for the good of our country even when the personal risk was great. Each of them could have easily given up when faced with challenges, but they chose to make the courageous decisions that allowed America to grow and thrive over the course of history. I am thankful for the many ways the Lord has blessed our country, and I am praying for our president and for the presidents who will come. Will you join me?

By / May 9

It is sometimes difficult to conceive that our Founding Fathers might have writer’s block.  When we think of our founding era and the efforts to encapsulate this great experiment in democracy, we sometimes think what we now know as the revolutionary ideas housed in our founding documents simply flowed from these brilliant minds through the quill and onto the parchment.

Yet, in 1787, the Constitutional Convention was at a severe stalemate.  They had labored for weeks to put into final form a new constitution.  Indeed, this was a second constitutional convention – one made necessary by the utter failure of the Articles of Confederation that temporarily formed our first government.  Adding to the frustration were the various factions naturally present as states jockeyed through their representatives for authoritative position in the nascent American government.

And it was hot.  Summer in Philadelphia 1787 was not an overly pleasant place, pre-air conditioning.  It was uncomfortable and these delegates had traveled over rough roads by horse back, had been separated from family for weeks, and had been sequestered in what we now know as Independence Hall until they would emerge with a final Constitution.  Having fought a revolution, their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor now hung in the balance.

It was in this hot, sticky, divisive, make-or-break-it moment that a grand American tradition was solidified.  Benjamin Franklin, who was anything but an iconic figure of religion or morality (and quite proudly so, it seems) took to the floor.  As the elder statesman spoke, a hush fell over those in mid-argument.  “I have lived, Sir, a long time,” began Franklin, “and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs 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?”

With that, Franklin would give modern day secularists fainting spells.  But, he wasn’t done.  As he wrapped his speech, he made an official motion, one which required an official vote by these official representatives of we the people, to wit:

“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.”

Thus was the tradition of opening our public meetings, our legislative debates, and other government meetings with prayer born.  Well, not so much born – public prayer had been routine in this country since the signing of the Mayflower Compact – as it was etched in our collective understanding of the unique American brand of democratic republicanism.

And this came around the time this very convention was considering the words that would eventually become what we know today as the First Amendment and, more narrowly within it, the Establishment Clause (though both came in final form almost two years later).  Did these men who seconded and considered Franklin’s official motion for clergy-led prayer not know the same would violate the very document they were drafting?  Did they not realize they were establishing a religion, violating the “separation of church and state,” and offending the sensitive sensibilities of the secularists among them?

Fast forward almost two and a half centuries to the present-day town of Greece, New York.  There, as in many cities, counties, and states of modern America, lawmakers began their meeting with a prayer by one or more of the clergy of their city.  These clergy, and the occasional lay citizen of an abiding faith, would officially implore the assistance of heaven and its blessings upon the forthcoming deliberations.  Yet, the very same practice that received the approbation of the conventioneers in 1787 is now the subject of yet another lawsuit by those claiming a violation of Franklin and company’s Constitution.

Against this backdrop, Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Supreme Court of the United States in Greece v. Galloway is all the more momentous.  For Kennedy, and four other justices, it was this, “history and tradition [that has] shown that prayer in this limited context could ‘coexist with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.'”

More than that, our double-centuried commitment to ceremonial prayers of the kinds that Franklin requested, has become a part of the American experience.  “Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that,” writes Kennedy, “since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define and that willing participation in civic affairs can be consistent with a brief acknowledgement of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs.”

One can hear in Justice Kennedy’s words the distant echos of Franklin’s confession that, “God governs the affairs of men” and guides, directs, and rules over even a self-governed people as well as their elected representatives.

And, as Franklin said, the Court reaffirmed in Galloway that such prayers are not merely of historical import, but welcomes the involvement of all Americans – most especially the Clergy.  Why?  “It acknowledges our growing diversity not by proscribing sectarian content but by welcoming ministers of many creeds.”  Welcoming the participation of the faithful in ceremonial prayer celebrates diversity.  Censoring prayers flattens our multiformity.

In other words, the second important holding (continuing our historical tradition being the first) of the Galloway decision lies in the Court’s imprimatur being set upon prayer by clergy.  This may seem obvious, but it is no less important. It was alleged that these prayers were the official prayers of the state and, as such, violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  A bare, but solid, majority disagreed. Instead, the Court held, legislative prayers are the prayers of the one who prays them.  In that light, not only do legislative prayers not violate the First Amendment, attempts to suppress or otherwise control the content of them are a gross violation of religious liberty.

Such a welcoming of ceremonial prayers in the public forum by whatever the faith background of the one who prays ought to be expected in America.  Or, at least, the majority of the Court seems to think so.  We live in a pluralistic society in which we can stomach various voices entering the public square.  To put it more casually, what the Court held is that we are all adults in this country.  Adults can put on their big-boy pants and enter into the public debate without having to censor unnecessarily someone else’s speech simply because one person is offended.  The solution to speech one does not like is not censorship, but more speech.

Censoring speech because its spiritual nature might cause offense is contrary to the history and jurisprudence of America. As Kennedy wrote, “Offense, however, does not equate to coercion . . . That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing reference to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition.”

Before turning to some points of application, we must also highlight an aspect of the Galloway majority opinion that may be overlooked.  Franklin noted the sovereign rule over government nature of the Almighty.  Kennedy, writing for the Court, seems to key in on that important note.  A Judeo-Christian view of government suggests that a limited government is one owing its authority, not simply to the consent of the governed, but also to the Governor of all nations.  While not explicitly stated in this manner, what else can be meant when the Court acknowledges prayers to be offered to a higher authority, rather than to the lawmakers themselves?

It is the lawmakers that, by these prayers, are reminded of their station in life.  They are not the top of the government food chain that, in moments of self-pride they may think themselves to be.  Rather, as Kennedy writes, “The principal audience for these invocations is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing . . . [T]heir purpose is largely to accommodate the spiritual needs of lawmakers and connect them to a tradition dating to the time of the Framers.”

That time, as Franklin made clear, is one in which the clear understanding of the elected government was that, though greater in size than sparrows, they were no less capable of raising an empire without the Divine’s aid.

With legislative, ceremonial prayers now firmly settled by this Court, where do we go from here?

First, Kennedy has struck a fatal blow to the notion that government is neutral when it sanitizes all religion from the public square.  Indeed, it seems a majority of the Court now believes quite the opposite.  Rather than creating neutrality, that type of nonsectarianism encroaches upon a neo-secular orthodoxy that cannot be sustained by its own logic or the First Amendment.  These will prove to be important words: “Government may not mandate a civic religion that stifles any but the most generic references to the sacred any more than it may prescribe a religious orthodoxy.”

But, in real life, Galloway will have a practical impact for many of us.  Many towns and counties and cities will begin to align their policies with this decision, as some have already done.  That is good.  In the process, like Franklin called for, these cities, etc., will be in great need of the Clergy of their city to provide these prayers and invocations.  You should seize this grand opportunity to not only add yourself to the long line of legislative prayer givers of decades past, but to continue the tradition with unapologetic prayers in the tradition of your faith.  Your government has affirmed what the Framers set out: religious liberty means being able to order your life in public and private according to the dictates of your faith.  Seize this great gift God has given to you and for which the majority of the globe envies.

And, understand that this prayer you may offer need not be therapeutic or moralistic in focus.  Rather, it is to be reflective of your contribution to a pluralistic society.  We may think less of virtue and absolute truth these days then we did in the days of Franklin, but if pluralism provides us anything, it is to be yet another voice in this world.  Contribute to it without worry that your voice will be silenced.  The Court has given you a grand invitation and protected your right to so attend: “The First Amendment is not a majority rule, and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech.  Once it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates, unfettered by what an administrator or judge considers to be nonsectarian.”

Finally, add to these real prayers by real men of the cloth a touch of bold kindness.  I find it interesting that the Court took pains to explain that permissible prayers – of the kind our history has supported – are not imprecatory prayers.  They are prayers of blessing and invocations for guidance.  As the majority held, “Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing serves that legitimate function.”  What is that ‘legitimate function? “[T]o lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage.”

And this ought to mark those of us who are marked by Christ.  Shy not away from a proclamation of the Truth of the Gospel in your prayer, but have your words infused with kindness and grace.

The prayers suggested by Franklin – if they were, in fact, observed – seemed to have worked.  The debate was still as serious as the matters being debated, but as the meetings of the Constitutional Convention continued  the conventioneers seemed to move more swiftly.  A Constitution was produced by the end of summer.  Soon after, a Bill of Rights.  From there came ratification and, by God’s grace an intervening history between then and now of an America possessed of a particular fondness toward religious liberty.

One is left to wonder at what might have been had Franklin not taken to the floor that fateful day in the City of Brotherly Love.  In Franklin’s monologue of 1787, there contained a dire warning.  Amid the rancor that had marked this constitutional convention was the risk of, having won its independence, America might lose its government.  And, should it so quickly decline because its leaders relied upon their own wisdom and not God’s, warned Franklin, “. . . mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.”

Thus we have it starkly before us: participate in and preserve this long-standing tradition of invoking God’s blessing and direction of our leaders or risk the inevitable despair that comes from a government established by human wisdom alone and are sustained only by chance, war, and conquest.