Don't cut up the fabric

Aiken is rightly standing firm on prayer in public meetings



Prayer helps.

Besides -- what can it hurt?

That prayer helps is a matter of deep faith for most of us, but it also has been the subject of scientific research, including a recent study by a University of Indiana professor in Mozambique. Clinical research there indicated significant improvements among hearing- and sight-impaired patients who were prayed over.

But even if you discount that kind of scientific study, what's the harm in prayer?

To some, the harm is that someone else is publicly espousing religious beliefs they don't agree with. So? Where's the actual harm?

Prayer before public meetings is under assault in America, most recently in Aiken, S.C., where the national Freedom From Religion Foundation has demanded the city council clean up or end its prayers. Public bodies can't engage in prayers that are sectarian or denominational -- favoring one religion over another.

Fine. Make sure the prayers are inclusive and nondenominational. Public bodies also could invite a rotating group of clergy to give prayers, making it even more inclusive.

If that's what the Freedom From Religion folks wanted, that might be the end of it. It's not.

"We'd prefer if they'd drop prayer altogether," an attorney for the foundation admits.

No doubt.

Still, Aiken residents won't be cowed, as they shouldn't. In an act of polite defiance, they held a prayer rally before last Monday's council meeting. An overflow crowd of as many as 700 showed up.

The thing is, this ought to be left up to a community to decide -- not an organization in another state that, frankly, mistakenly believes the Constitution somehow designates a right to be free "from" religion. There is no such right in our Constitution. Fact is, the First Amendment protects individuals' rights to express their religious beliefs.

The rules for governmental bodies are much more restrictive, obviously, but not to the point where prayer must be banned.

The practice of opening public meetings with prayers -- which was done by those who wrote our Constitution, by the way -- may not be among the most monumental of matters. But the principle of keeping America a spiritual nation, and defending our rights, definitely is.

That's part of the fabric of this country, like it or not. But if you don't like it, why would you feel either the legal or moral right to deny it to everyone else?

Neighborliness is also part of our fabric.

Or it used to be, anyway.