By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
RALEIGH – This week the Raleigh News and Observer ran a story about legislative prayers offered at the opening of each session of the House and Senate. The premise of the story was based on the question of whether prayers would be more diverse now that the legislative body consisted of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu adherents.
The story noted that the opening prayer in the House offered by Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Warsaw) ended “in the name of Jesus Christ,” while the prayer offered in the Senate by Rev. Sarah Woodard “ended with a simple ‘Amen.’” But it also reported that newly elected Rep. Nasif Majeed (D-Charlotte), the first Muslim elected to the North Carolina House, “hopes to make the prayers more inclusive.” The N&O also quoted Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Raleigh) who said, “I certainly hope that the Senate would be open to prayers from the non-Christian faiths given the fact there is now a member of the Senate who is of the Hindu faith and a member of the Senate who is of the Muslim faith.” Chaudhuri was referring to himself, a practicing Hindu, and Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, who is Muslim.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, was also contacted for the story and quoted. However, he said that although his statements weren’t reported incorrectly by the N&O, he felt the quote and the way the reporter used it wasn’t as strong as his full quote.
“I have no problem with the story. I have no problem with the way the N&O quoted me. I support religious freedom for every faith, which I think was the thrust behind the story. I support the Muslim and the Hindu’s equal opportunity to offer an opening prayer at the start of the session as much as I do a Christian. I wouldn’t want their religious liberty infringed upon any more than I would my own,” said Creech. “But this does not mean that I believe these other religions are equally true to Christianity. Nor does it mean I believe there are many ways to God. Nor does it mean I believe other faiths have contributed in any significant way to the shaping of our country. Nor are they in any significant manner necessary for its sustenance or survival. It was the God of the Christian religion that gave birth to this nation, and without him, it cannot survive. I will go so far as to say that other religions have found a haven of tranquility, safety, and prosperity in America because of Christianity’s influence on our way of life. This is what I was trying to convey in my full quote, which didn’t make the story.”
Creech said the N&O reporter who contacted him, Rashaan Ayesh, posed what he thought was a twofold question, which asked about the importance of prayer before the General Assembly and a response to critics who claim these prayers are not inclusive of other religions. Creech responded by email with the following:
“I called you earlier this evening to let you know that I didn’t see your email until around 9:00. If you haven’t finished your story already, allow me to submit my answer to what you have posed as a twofold question.
“I think an opening prayer at the General Assembly is very important for some of the same reasons retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy gave in the majority opinion of the High Court case, Town of Greece v. Galloway. Kennedy essentially said it was a means of adding gravity to the occasion and it reflects our most precious values which have been a long part of this country’s tradition. He said that when prayer is offered in a solemn and respectful tone, it invites legislators in that moment to consider our nation’s shared ideas and common objectives before starting the sensitive and often contentious business of governing. This is a critical and legitimate function for an opening prayer by
“The primary purpose of our state’s legislature is the preservation of the people’s unalienable rights. Unalienable rights are God-given rights – rights the government cannot infringe upon without incurring the displeasure of the Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of nations, to whom we appeal in the Preamble of our state’s constitution.
“I understand some make the claim that such prayers are not inclusive enough of other religions. I think this is a complaint that fails to realistically consider certain dynamics in play. From its earliest beginnings, this nation has been recognized as a Christian nation. This was clearly stated in the 1892 Supreme Court decision, The Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States. In 1931, Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland reviewed that decision and reaffirmed that Americans were ‘a Christian people.’ This does not mean that every American is now or ever was a Christian. But even the liberal Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas, declared that ‘we are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’
“There is no charter, no constitution, that recognizes Islam, Hinduism, Confucius, Buddha, etc. and looks to any of these as a guide or considers them as having contributed to this nation’s founding or development in any major way. Even Judaism is not recognized except by its connection to or within the context of Christianity. And though we affirm the separation of church and state, there is nowhere a repudiation of Christianity as one of our great institutions or as something which promotes sublime goodness and well-being. Instead, Christianity or Christian principles are acknowledged voluminously in presidential speeches, judicial opinions, federal holidays, legislation, national and state monuments, etc. If ever there is a declaration in favor of some religion, it is Christianity.
“My point is: I don’t think that other religions are purposely being discriminated against or excluded, it’s just that Christianity is what is most prominent. It has contributed more than any other religion. It has unquestionably shaped this nation. And I would argue that despite rulings from the courts in recent years that have struck down public actions said to favor Christianity; this is not the same as what the founders meant by an establishment of religion. Liberty is rooted in a biblical moral order. If Christianity is repudiated in our institutions and laws, freedom will be lost.”
Read the N&O story, NC Legislature starts its day with prayer. Will more diverse members change who they pray to?