If any more evidence were required that a nation whose Constitution guarantees individual religious liberty does not need members of the clergy presiding over and pontificating at public events, it was provided at the 9/11 memorial ceremony by the numerous references to God and an afterlife from family members of those who died in the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center.

Many talked about their belief that a spouse, a parent, a sister, or a brother was “watching over” them from heaven and that they would see their loved one again. Obviously, I don’t believe in family reunions in an afterlife but my own view is irrelevant. It is the absolute right of any American citizen to stand up and make a personal statement of faith on such an occasion as long as it is personal and does not presume to speak for other citizens or the nation as a whole.

At the same time, is absolutely wrong to to impose group obeisance to religion, whether a particular faith or a general belief in God, by drafting a member of the clergy to provide a religious imprimatur for public ceremonies or the conduct of public business. It is wrong even though such homage to religion has become a common, extra-constitutional practice. It is wrong when the prayers are as bland and nondenominational as those now offered by Senate and House chaplains. It is even more wrong when the prayers are specifically denominational (and most of the legal disputes in this area have arisen because of the insistence of Christian conservatives that they are being denied their right to practice their religion if they are not allowed to exercise dominion over public proceedings).

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