Memphis council ready to go to court over prayers

Official city emblem on the Memphis City Council website. The Council gives cufflinks with this official emblem to Chaplains of the Day.

The Memphis City Council, under fire for allowing prayers “in Jesus’ name” and giving gifts to preachers at its public meetings, would be willing to take the matter to court if challenged, according to an article in Memphis’ top-selling daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal .

The Commercial Appeal article fills in some of the details of the situation, including the fact that these invocations have been occurring for “almost 18 years” and that the goody bags given to each officially- appointed Chaplain of the Day includes “city emblem cufflinks and necklace pendants for spiritual leaders”.

On the one side is the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), whose co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said “They’re not separating their personal faith with their governmental duty. It’s really crossing the line.”

On the other side is Memphis City Council chairman Harold Collins, who defended the practice, saying “It does not alienate people who are not of faith […] They don’t have to participate in the prayer.” He states that the reason invited chaplains are Christians is because council members are Christian. If FFRF challenges the practice and threatens to sue them, Collins said “We’d have to see them in court.”

The Pro Tem Mayor, Myron Lowery, who is also a former council chairman, has decided not to step into the fray except to say that “I am not going to stop the council from doing what it’s been doing for years and to which I feel is to their benefit.”

I believe the case is even more clear-cut than I originally thought. In addition to the fact that most of the prayers are clearly Christian in nature, and the councilman admits that they invite mostly Christians, it also appears the Council gives these Chaplains cufflinks with the city’s emblem on them. This certainly could be interpreted as city approval of these chaplains, unless they give the cufflinks to anyone who comes by. There are also the “necklace pendants”. I wonder what these “necklace pendants” look like. A cross is a type of pendant, but no mention is made of this in the article.

In any case, it sounds like these gifts are specially given to the chaplains. The Council is using city money to reward preachers from one religion, Christianity. If that isn’t government endorsement of religion, what is?

In general, FFRF diligently pursues cities who make illegal sectarian prayers at town meetings. As I mentioned earlier , such official endorsement of religion has been found to unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. The initial reaction of the council chairman does not sound like they are willing to find a compromise or re-evaluate the council’s practice in light of the allegations. If they’re unwilling to even attempt to fall into constitutional guidelines, it looks like they’re headed for a lawsuit.

My favorite reverend

Source of image : http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/11/10/billy_2.jpg

If you’re from the New York area, or keep up on political news, you may be aware that a Reverend is running for New York mayor.
Billy Talen, the genius behind the funny yet serious movie “What Would Jesus Buy?”, is running against Michael Bloomberg. He’s not a real preacher, but does a hilarious sacrilegious impersonation of one. As the title and picture of his film suggest, Rev. Billy speaks out against rampant consumerism and the impending “Shopocalypse”.

Although most people think he doesn’t have a chance running as a Green against the immensely rich and power Bloomberg, I think it’s great that Rev. Billy’s raising some important issues about the economy, the environment, and people’s quality of life.

He also is poking fun at (tele)evangelists along the way, which makes it even better for me. Before running for mayor, he would go everywhere preaching and singing to people asking them to stop splurging on unneeded gifts, backed by his Stop-Shopping choir.

Although his main point has nothing to do with religion, I’ve often wondered what religion, if any, Rev. Billy himself. He can’t take religion too seriously if he’s been storming Disneyland, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and other store chains dressed up as a too-slick preacher for 8 years now! If you haven’t seen him in action, here’s an interview he did a couple years ago. He mentions Jesus “trespassing”, which doesn’t sound like a very Christian thing to say!

Memphis does work “in Jesus’ name”, in violation of Constitution


Image Source: Tennessee Department of Tourism Development

Memphis, TN is the latest city to come under scrutiny for invocations “in Jesus’ name” at City Council sessions. The Memphis City Council joins a growing list of institutions which the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent complaints to due to their unconstitutional endorsement of religion during official government business.

It is fairly common practice for city councils in the United States to open their sessions with an “invocation”. The Supreme Court has held that such invocations must non-denominational in nature. In other words, a government institution is not supposed to pray to Jesus or Mohammad, or favor one congregation or another, since this would appear to be supporting one religion over another and promoting belief over unbelief.

In practice, invocations at government meetings all too often turn into openly Christian prayers. Such practices clearly go against the Establishment Clause of the Constitution (which Thomas Jefferson described as “a wall of separation between Church and State”). As a resident of the Mid-South, I am sad to say that Memphis is unfortunately no exception.

Here are some examples of objectionable quotes and occurrences at Memphis City Council meetings this year which clearly seem to show the city choosing sides in religion. From FFRF’s News Release and letter of complaint ,

  • The Memphis City Council, at each of its general meetings, names an official “Chaplain of the Day”, giving them a certificate and a “goody bag” of gifts that includes cuff links.
  • Repeated references to praying “Jesus’ name” during and at the end of invocations, clearly showing a preference for Christianity.
  • A call by one Chaplain of the Day on June 2nd saying that “These legislative leaders you have allowed to sit at the table of decision now acknowledge the inability within themselves to fix these ills of society and they now recognize and depend on your sufficiency,” followed later by the Lord’s Prayer.
  • A quote from Psalms saying that “The Lord knows the ways of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish,” ending the invocation by saying “in the name of Jesus Christ we pray”.

These examples, among many others like them, clearly show that the Memphis City Council is not only preferring religion over non-religion, but Christianity over other faiths. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that invocational prayers at government meetings cannot be “exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith, or belief” (Marsh v. Chambers , as quoted by FFRF). Under this ruling, the invocations cited by FFRF clearly seem to violate the Constitution.

I also have looked into this somewhat (audio archives of all Memphis City Council meetings can be found at http://memphis.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2 ), and it’s clear that city council members are not only aware of these unconstitutional appeals to Christianity made by the Chaplains of the Day (who the City Council officially names), but council members sometimes even praise the Chaplains after making such statements.

The message is clear: as far as the council is concerned, Memphis is a Christian city. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that Memphis, or any other city, should not be pushing anyone’s religion on city time and on the city’s dime. Just as churchgoers would not want council members to go into churches to make sermons about city ordinances, why should civic-minded Jews, Buddhists, or atheists be subjected to Christian dogma at city council meetings?

Memphis City Council joins the list of other government bodies (The Wisconsin Assembly and the city councils of Toledo, OH and Lodi, CA , among others) caught mixing religion with official business. It will be interesting to see what Memphis’ response to these clear violations will be. I’ll be sure to post any updates to this story as I find out about them.

All good cars don’t go to heaven

http://z.about.com/d/webclipart/1/0/N/h/1/cloud5.jpg - 18.8 K Clip art by Bobby Peachey .

It’s been an incredibly busy two weeks due to work and other issues. In particular, I’ve been dealing with one heart-wrenching personal issue… I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that cars, just like humans, do not live eternally.

Our decade-old car recently drove its last mile. He was a good car, chugging along until the very end. He was a reliable car overall, but he did have his little quirks we had come to love: the increasingly loud purr/growl his engine made; his overhead light that would only intermittently help us find things in the dark; his air conditioning that only had two working settings: full-blast and off. He sputtered his last about a week ago, in a puff of white smoke as he pulled into the driveway.

Perhaps because of being raised a Christian, I briefly considered the fact that our car might be in a better place right now. He could be doing a victory lap in that big racetrack in the sky, with a pit crew to attend to his every need.

But are there free oil changes and tuneups forever in the great beyond for our dearly-departed cars? Although there is no way to prove it, and I doubt we’ll ever know for sure whether or not there is a car heaven, I have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t the case.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no need for car heaven. Our car gave his all here on Earth and had a long and full experience, traveling over 120,000 miles of this great land we call America. Some of his parts will be used to keep other cars going. (Our car never signed a donor card, but we know he wouldn’t want it any other way.) And he will give way to a new generation of cars that inspire hope, evolving to become more and more fuel efficient as the years go by.

What matters is that he made a difference in our lives while he was still running. There’s no need for a car heaven. And there’s no need for us to mourn his death. And no time, either—we need to find a new car, and fast!