Prayer Scrooges

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In recent years we have suffered scrooges who have tried to interfere with both the cultural and religious aspects of Christmas and public expressions of faith.

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has embarrassed a number of localities and merchants in recent years by exposing their “War On Christmas.”

If a store clerk says “Happy Holidays,” I just smile and respond with “Merry Christmas!” It’s funny, I’ve never received or heard of “Happy Holidays” presents or a “Holidays” presents, just Christmas presents.

However, some scrooges have demanded removal of manger scenes and crosses. Amusingly, they have even tried to ban Santa Claus and cultural, non-religious Christmas songs. They fail to understand that Santa and Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer don’t threaten society like ISIS or other terrorists, and that they have nothing to do with Jesus fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament.

The Newport Beach City Council and staff have been prayer scrooges all year long. In January 2004, the council approved a policy on prayers given to start the city council meetings (Policy A-19) that was unnecessarily restrictive and arguably unconstitutional. No subsequent council changed the policy.

According to the policy, the city would actually send warnings of their limitations of prayer content to those invited to give an invocation at council meetings.

For example, the 2004 city policy prohibited those praying at the city council meetings from mentioning the name of “Jesus” or a religious holiday or event, such as the federally recognized holiday “Christmas.”

However, during public comments, any speaker could mention both. So the council’s ill-advised limits on the content of prayer were more restrictive than what members of the public could say during their public comments.

The old council couldn’t get the city hall spending right, and they couldn’t get the prayer policy right either.

Of course there are legal analyses with transparently political rationales for restricting religious speech. They pretend that centuries of prayer in American government didn’t really happen.

The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that public prayer in legislative bodies is constitutional. We can all read the plain meaning of the First Amendment. The Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment, was approved by Congress only three days after that same Congress authorized hiring paid chaplains to give an invocation to open each day of Congress with a prayer.

This year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that Christianity cannot be removed from prayers at council meetings. This is consistent with American history. Our country was founded by Christian dissenters who left persecution behind and just wanted to practice their version of Christianity without the government telling them what they must believe and how they must worship.

The city’s prayer policy conflicts with the U.S. Constitution and this Supreme Court decision. The old prayer policy should be changed or just repealed. Now is a good time, since there was a revolt by Newport Beach voters last month and a new council majority took office three days ago.

By changing the restrictive prayer policy, private citizens, religious leaders or even council members in Newport Beach could continue this American tradition.

The prayer scrooges will be unhappy.

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