By Joseph L. Conn
I don’t really look to Bob Barr for sound advice on religious liberty issues.
The former Georgia congressman is, after all, the guy who demanded that military commanders at a base in Texas ban Wiccan soldiers from observing the vernal equinox, enthusiastically backed a measure that directed the federal courts to leave decisions about Ten Commandments displays up to state governments and joined a brief at the Supreme Court supporting majority-rules prayer at public school football games.
But Barr has moderated some of his far-right views in recent years – hanging out with Libertarians and libertarians – and I had kept my fingers crossed that he might have come to his senses about church-state relations.
My hopes for Bob’s repentance, however, have now been dashed.
In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Web essay today, Barr blasted Americans United and other “First Amendment zealots” for opposing the congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer (NDP).
The NDP, says the famously grumpy politician, is “benign,” a non-controversial occasion that brings together “men and women from across the political spectrum, representing many nationalities and diverse religious faiths, for a common, and, of course, voluntary, celebration of prayer.”
Blustered Barr, “Yet, those seeking a ‘Chinese Wall’ between any activity that is remotely religious and anything that is remotely connected to the government, are constantly casting about for new, otherwise innocuous religion-tinged events against which to file lawsuits. The fact that President Barack Obama, like every president before him back to Truman, has denoted one day each year as a ‘National Day of Prayer,’ apparently was just too much for the prayer police to stomach.”
Now, wait just a whipped-cream-licking minute, Bob! That church-state wall you’re banging on isn’t Chinese, it’s American. And if you call yourself a conservative, you ought to support it, not try to tear it down.
Yes, we at Americans United oppose the NDP. But we do so, not because we are opposed to prayer, but because we are opposed to government meddling in something that the Constitution has left in the very capable hands of the American people. We don’t think the government should tell anyone when – or even whether – to pray or engage in any other religious activity.
Keeping the government out of our personal lives should draw support from you, Mr. Barr, not criticism.
Far from benign, the NDP has served as a handy platform for Religious Right groups to spread lies about our nation’s history and its time-honored commitment to religious freedom for all – believers and non-believers alike. James and Shirley Dobson and their cronies have set up religiously exclusive NDP events at public buildings across America each year to give the false impression that government gives preference to their version of Christianity.
That’s not diversity, and it’s a source of controversy, not unity.
The federal court’s recent decision against the NDP in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama was a wise one.
So we at Americans United will continue to blow the whistle on the NDP – and any other instances of inappropriate government intervention in religion.
As a bona fide member of Barr’s “prayer police,” I wonder if I’ll get a cool badge, a uniform and a gun. If I do, Bob, I promise to use all three responsibly.