The Hill is considered the top U.S. political website read by the White House and more lawmakers than any other site. A recent op-ed in it had the arresting title: “US Courts: Can’t pray at work, can’t pray at home.” Kelly Shackelford and James Ho were the authors. They make their case by citing two appeals court decisions.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals told Mary Anne Sause, a public housing resident, “that two officers could force her to stop praying in her living room, for no reason whatsoever.” When the officers threatened to arrest her, she asked for permission to pray. After receiving permission, another officer mocked her and commanded her to “get up” and “stop praying.”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a school district in Washington State could fire Coach Joe Kennedy because he went by himself to the fifty-yard line after the football game was over to pray for less than a minute. The court ruled that a public school teacher or a coach has no right to engage in such expression if the speech or conduct is “in the presence of students and spectators.”
Perhaps now you can see why the authors of this op-ed wrote what they did. If these legal precedents get any traction, religious people in general (and Christians in particular) won’t be able to pray at work or pray at home. They wonder if a school in the future could force a teacher to remove a cross or remove her hijab before entering a classroom. Would even offering a short prayer before a meal be justification for disciplinary action?
As I have mentioned in previous commentaries, the idea of religious liberty is already being redefined. Some politicians and commentators no longer talk about the freedom of religion but instead talk about freedom of worship. This moves our religious rights from the public arena to our private lives. But if you can’t pray at work, and you can’t pray at home, it seems to me we have lost our religious liberty.