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[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Taking note of the great rejoicing the
Supreme Courts ruling on prayer evoked in scores of people and organizations
this past week reminded me of the infamous line from the officer who, during the
war in Vietnam, commented on the destruction of the village of My Lai, We had
to destroy the village in order to save it! Look, what is there to celebrate in the
High Courts decision to allow legislative prayers to be spoken in all kinds of
public meetings? The big loser in this judicial decision was prayer itself--its
uniqueness, and its authenticity.
This most recent decision of the High Court, like many before it, has provided a
win for conservative forces in our nation at the expense of a broadside, if not a
compromise of, religion. Has anybody thought of the fact that prayer is a spiritual
practice better defined theologically than politically or legally?
The classic definition of prayer is personal communication with God.
Communion with God takes place at a level in the soul, spirit, and mind of an
individual that is untouchable by government, by educational institutions, or any
other external force. A proper theological, spiritual understanding of prayer leads
to the conclusion that nothing--no other person or no institution--can either
prevent a person from praying or force a person to pray.
Public prayers are risky at best and always vulnerable to prostitution and
manipulation. That is why in the scriptures of many religious traditions, like in
Christianity, my tradition, public prayer is discouraged. Jesus found offensive
prayers offered in public to call attention to the one praying rather than to the
substance of the persons communion with God. Real prayer does not occur to
impress or to instruct other people.
Frankly, the recent Supreme Court ruling on prayer dealt a legal blow to the
authenticity of the spiritual practice of prayer and consequently it is no more than
a ruling on the legality of making social, political, and governmental statements in
civic social sessions in order to be heard by those assembled rather than by
The one form of public prayer thats distinct from other forms of public prayers is
a prayer articulated in a house of worship as a contribution to worship--whether
spoken aloud spontaneously, by script, or a liturgical reading. My pastoral
prayers offered in public worship are explicitly directed to God with my
awareness that my overheard communion with God may provide help for others
wanting to pray, or assure people in need that others are praying for them, or
embraced by other worshipers who join my prayers and make them their prayers.
Believe me, the kind of public prayers that attracted the ruling of the Supreme
Court hardly qualify as such personal and spiritual acts of communion with God.
Like most of you, I have listened to public prayers in school board meetings, city
council gatherings, and legislative sessions at the state and federal levels of
government. Most frequently, the words bearing the identification of prayer are
far more statements of public opinion or imperatives for civic action that an
individuals honest communion with God.
Im not surprised that non-religious people are now planning to petition civic
bodies to allow them as well as religious leaders to offer prayers at the
beginning of their public meetings. Given the Supreme Courts decision, that
seems fair. The High Court made clear that its recent ruling does not protect
public prayers that negate others religions or convey incivility. In other words,
the court affirmed the offering of prayers that meet the courts civil standards. Of
course I favor that part of the ruling, but, honestly, I dont want the justices of the
Supreme Court or anybody else in government trying to define what I can or I
cannot say in my private communion with God. And its ridiculous to think that
could occur.
When will we learn? Every time we submit a sacred act to a civic body asking for
a ruling on its appropriateness in a diverse public, we allow others, others who
are not thinking theologically, to compromise the most sacred aspects of our
religious practices. And in such situations, regardless of who wins in court,
religion and its holy practices lose everywhere!

State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing
role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by
illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America the most religiously diverse
country in the world while exposing and critiquing both the political
manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of
government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the
news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an
understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics
with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is
to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious
Right is wrong wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from
around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with
politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a
religiously pluralistic world.

Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizens Guide to
Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev.
Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational
organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship
at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief
radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by
illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing
both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious
manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating
to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBCs The Rachel Maddow
Show and Hardball, NBCs Nightly News and Dateline, PBSs Religion and
Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPANs Washington
Journal, ABCs World News, and CNNs American Morning. Former host of
Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a
regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged
as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many
leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a
20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World
Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General
Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of
the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forums Council
of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform
of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC),
Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the
conventions Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian
Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson,
Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

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