Thursday, November 15, 2007

Praying for rain in Georgia

I was used to hearing about calls for prayer rains in Pakistan. After a drought, the government would request mosques all over the country to offer special prayers for rain. Sure...ok, it is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan with a deeply religious society. But I did not expect a prayer for rain from the steps of a state Capitol in the US:
As Georgia descends deeper into drought, Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered water restrictions, launched a legal battle and asked President Bush for help. On Tuesday, the governor called on a higher power. He joined lawmakers and ministers on the steps of the state Capitol to pray for rain.

While public prayer vigils might raise eyebrows in other parts of the nation, they are mostly shrugged off in the Bible Belt, where turning to the heavens for help is common and sometimes even politically expedient.
Hmm...first the Patriot Act and now this. It appears that the US is getting more and more inspiration from Pakistan.

However, here is the Atlanta freethought society:
The loudest opposition to Perdue's move came from the Atlanta Freethought Society, a secular group that planned to protest at the vigil.

"The governor can pray when he wants to," said Ed Buckner, who was organizing the protest. "What he can't do is lead prayers in the name of the people of Georgia.
And if you still don't believe it, watch the video of the Georgian Governor requesting rain and read the full story here. Incredible!


Matthew said...

"What he can't do is lead prayers in the name of the people of Georgia."

As much as I think there can't be a state sponsored religion here, I can't agree with this specific claim. People are not being forced to pray, the governor is simply praying on behalf of the citizenry. It's sort of like if someone says "I'll pray for you." It may annoy you, but you are not guaranteed a right not to be annoyed.

You could argue that he's spending his official time in a formal religious ceremony, and that isn't good. But unless he's ordering state staff (or schoolkids, or whomever) to stop and pray, he can pray to whomever, however, for whatever. It's free speech, free practice of religion, and freedom of peaceable assembly.

It's absurd, but he's free to do it.

Salman Hameed said...

Hmm...that is a good point. But what if he declares a "prayer day", just as was done in Alabama:
"Alabama Gov. Bob Riley issued a proclamation declaring a week in July as "Days of Prayer for Rain" to "humbly ask for His blessings and to hold us steady in times of difficulty.""

Now, he is not saying here that you HAVE to pray, but isn't it implicit in such a declaration? In the same way, if the Georgian Governor prayed privately on behalf of the citizenry...sure no problem. But if he is announcing it from the Capitol building in a press-conference, isn't it more than just praying on behalf of the citizenry?
I think it is an intersting example of the tension between the separation of Church & State and the free practice of religion.

Matthew said...

Yes it is a good example of this, but even the Days of Prayer thing in Alabama is ambiguous. Resolutions of federal and state legislatures can be used to express sentiments of the legislative body as well as well as to legislate. In a legal sense, something like that has as much legal weight as them declaring today "Burrito Day" or "I like Halo 3 Day" -- you are not required to eat a burrito or play Halo 3. There is no legal issue involved -- other than several hundred paid state employees (which the governor and legislature effectively are) spending official time on this.

It's also worth noting that the "United States" is very much a union of very independent states. Although you effectively have free movement throughout the country, one state can be very different from another, even in terms of government, although differences are more regional than state-to-state.

Salman Hameed said...

Yes, I think it is more of an issue of state employees spending their time and resources organizing such an event/occasion. Other than that, it should be ok in the legal sense (minus the annoyance factor).

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