Welcome To Fantasy Island: Religious Right Attorney Misleads On Council Prayers

What’s going on in Sussex County, Del., is a classic case of a local government endorsing one religion over others.

I sometimes wonder what it must be like to live in the Religious Right’s world. It’s a place where if you don’t like reality, you just make up something else. If you’re annoyed by the fact that the Earth is five billion years old, you can insist that it’s only 6,000 and that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. If you don’t like the fact that the U.S. Constitution creates a secular government, you can assert that it’s really Christian.

What color is the sky in their world? Perhaps it’s a really cool royal purple!

I got to thinking about this again while reading the latest dispatch from “OneNewsNow,” a web-based Religious Right propaganda mill run by the American Family Association (AFA). (I was a journalism major in college and respect the profession; thus, I refuse to call what the AFA is doing here “news.”)

OneNewsNow notes that Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right outfit now operated from the Falwell empire in Lynchburg, Va., is not happy with AU’s lawsuit challenging recitation of the Lord’s Prayer before meetings of the Sussex County, Del., Council.

No surprise there. I didn’t expect Staver to like it.

It’s what he says next that gets me. Defending the Sussex practice, he asserts, “Clearly, this is constitutional, and we need to absolutely, unequivocally draw a line in the sand and resist these efforts to de-christianize and de-religionize America by these radical organizations.”

Clearly this is constitutional? On what planet, Mat? You’re dean of the Liberty University Law School, so how about citing some cases? (I’m waiting.)

The fact is, what’s going on in Sussex County is a classic case of a local government endorsing one religion over others. The council president recites the Lord’s Prayer out loud before every meeting. He does not recite other prayers. I’m not aware of any federal court that has ever upheld a situation like this.

Some so-called “non-sectarian” prayers have survived these challenges – and some sectarian prayers have been upheld, but only when there is religious diversity among the prayers and prayer-givers -- but the Lord’s Prayer is hardly non-sectarian and it is undoubtedly Christian, having been lifted straight out of the New Testament.

Staver goes on to assert that Americans United would “take ‘we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights’ out of the Declaration of Independence; they would eliminate prayer [and] any kind of recognition or acknowledgement of God.”

That’s a serious charge, Mat. Back it up. When have we ever advocated for altering the Declaration of Independence? Name one instance. As for eliminating prayer and references to God, we believe every citizen has the right to engage in the religious activity of their choosing – government, not so much.

Finally, Staver vows to defend Sussex County for free. But again, he fails to tell the whole story. Staver might not bill the county, but if the county loses in court, it will have to pay attorneys’ fees. These can be considerable.  If he’s so confident in his legal position, why doesn’t Staver pony up an offer to pay those?

Last month I wrote a blog post about two Kentucky counties – one of them desperately poor --  that are struggling to pay nearly half a million in attorneys’ fees to the American Civil Liberties Union after losing lawsuits over their display of the Ten Commandments. Both counties were represented “for free” by – you guessed it – Mat Staver.

Staver is, of course, free to live in the Religious Right’s World of Make Believe. I just don’t think officials in Sussex County should join him in taking up residence there. It looks nice from the outside, but I hear the place is actually kind of a dump.