When I was a mere elementary school lad, I remember Mrs. Anderson calling the class to order with a "moment of silence." We weren't allowed to have a prayer, she informed us. So there we stood, heads reverently bowed, blankly making no noise together.
Now, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has commanded that the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks be commemorated in the same way, reverently and entirely without substance.
Why? Some speculate that he doesn't want to offend the victims of 9/11 by having to invite a Muslim cleric to take the stage along with a Roman Catholic priest, a Protestant clergyman, a Jewish Rabbi, etc. But that seems entirely unlikely. After all, this is the same mayor who, not very long ago, was adamantly defending the right of Muslims to build a mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero.
In personally advocating a thirteen-story mosque be erected so close to where the World Trade Center was purposely destroyed by radical Muslims in the name of their religion, Bloomberg had the temerity to say, "Democracy is stronger than this. You know the ability to practice your religion was one of the real reasons America was founded. And for us to just say no is just, I think, not appropriate..."
Somehow it has become appropriate at the 10th anniversary memorial of 9/11, and so we presume that democracy is now apparently too weak to withstand having clergy at the scene. No one seemed to mind when they showed up right after the attack to help the victims.
Perhaps the mayor could have come up with an entirely innocuous prayer that all the clergy could offer without offending anyone, say something like this: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, and our country. Amen."
Who could possibly object to that?
Read the prayer again, a slightly different version this time: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen." Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Engel v. Vitale, the landmark 1962 Supreme Court Case that struck down school prayer as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That was the prayer that some folks in New York's Long Island found so offensive that they demanded that there be no praying in any public school anywhere. They certainly won big. Since Engel v. Vitale a series of court cases have struck down, one after another, any religious expression in the public square, thereby setting one clause of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion") in direct contradiction to the clause that directly follows it ("or prohibiting the free exercise thereof").
And that is the contradiction now squeezing Mayor Bloomberg. In disallowing any public appearance of religion in the 9/11 memorial "service," he's simply taking Engel v. Vitale yet another step. No prayer in public schools. No prayer in public period. The Establishment Clause (so secularists would have us believe) demands that religion be silenced.
But then, in the name of the Free Exercise Clause, Bloomberg believes he must throw his official weight behind the building of a mosque. (Our own federal government even cheerfully paid the bill for the Imam pushing the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, to flit about the Middle East, fostering "understanding" about American Muslims, and, so it seems, to gather foreign funding to build the mosque).
What to make of this contradiction? The obvious thing to point out is that there was no such contradiction when the First Amendment was written. Or to put it another way, there were not two clauses but one: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." Note the semicolon occurs after both have been stated, showing us that they belong together, a positive and a negative, in the same clause. The whole point, in historical context, was that the Federal Government should not positively sanction one Christian denomination over another (as England had established the Anglican Church as the state church), and also negatively should not interfere in the free exercise of any denomination (as England had persecuted both Puritans and Catholics).
The contradiction between the two parts of the single clause arose when secular-minded judicial activists started using the first part of the clause to violate the second; that is, actively using the Establishment Clause to prohibit the free exercise of Christianity.
I have stated this very particularly. It is impossible to understand what is really going on in all this apart from the larger historical secular revolution occurring over the last several centuries. This larger revolution was defined against Christianity. The secular-minded Enlightenment radicals were not just trying to overthrow any religion; they were attempting to root out the Christian foundation of their own culture and sow another entirely secular culture in its place. In defining their project against Christianity in particular, they thereby built into their secular revolution an inherent anti-Christian bias.
Part of this bias was the belief that religion was bad, but any religion was better than Christianity. This same bias works today among the politically correct who charge Christians with every imaginable crime against humanity, even while affirming Islam as entirely, essentially a peace-loving religion. So it is that a particular New York mayor uses the Establishment Clause to root out Christianity, and the Free Exercise Clause to publicly affirm Islam.
I doubt that Mayor Bloomberg is conscious of following in the ruts of the large-scale secular revolution reaching all the way back to 17th and 18th century Europe; rather, he is simply following the judicial and cultural grooves cut so deeply by the American judiciary, the ACLU, and the politically-correct intelligentsia reigning in NYC who carry forth that secular revolution on our own shores.
And that's what put Bloomberg in the current pickle. In order to follow the secular logic of Disestablishment, he must violate the Free Exercise Clause and prohibit public prayer at the 9/11 Memorial, and in order to support the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in conformity to the Free Exercise Clause, he must throw governmental weight behind it, thereby violating the Establishment Clause.
That contradiction should be a sign that it is not judicial reason that brings two parts of one clause into crashing opposition, but an ideology that has broken the clause into two pieces and is using them for its own purposes.