Church-and-state discussions can be a little scary, especially in rural Texas. It does not matter how arguments against it are phrased, anyone who stands in public opposition to state-sponsored prayer does so at great peril.
Republicans and social conservatives have manipulated this issue to their advantage. You can see it from the courthouse to the statehouse, high-profile Republicans take great pains to say all the right words in just the right order so they can appear to be the most obviously Big Church Christian political party in Texas.
Further, Republicans have spent the last few decades demonizing Democrats for being against religion, or, at least, on the wrong side of the church-and-state debate. That most Christian Democrats prefer to keep religious matters out of the public square (remembering what Christ said in Matthew 24) doesn’t help, nor does the fact that most Democrats look at church-and-state issues with more nuance than most Republicans.
For this reason, it’s gotta be very difficult for a church-going Democrat to stand up in a rural Texas county courtroom and publicly say that the county government has no business sponsoring prayer. Any prayer. Even three days of prayer calling for rain to help break a drought. Maybe even especially a call for three days of prayer — for some reason, three days of prayer seems kind of pagan.
But that’s what Don Schuerman did Monday. After the Reverend Andy Isaacs (the new Republican JP in Precinct 3) asked Milam County Commissioners to issue the proclamation, Don stood up and reminded them that even local governments are subject to the Constitution and just because the governor did something similar a few months ago doesn’t make it right.
He wasn’t exactly shouted down but the awkward silence in the courtroom and the strained, uncomfortable smiles on the commissioner’s faces were just as noisy. Don didn’t push it further and the court voted in favor of calling for three days of prayer then quickly moved on. After the vote, Andy grinned and exchanged high-fives with his friends huddled along the back wall of the courtroom.
Those who want state-sponsored prayer want it very badly. They want it so badly they think nothing of warping the Constitution and the Gospels to rationalize it, even though they end up sounding like a group of radical Islamic clerics spouting fundamental Sharia Law in their attempts to defend themselves for using the tools of government to force their religious beliefs on others.
They want it so badly, they’ll accept a watered-down, generic, non-denominational plea to a vaguely vast deity, if it means that the state will favor it with a proclamation.
Sadly, if it means that they can be seen praying in public, they’ll accept a useless plea to a deity so nonsensical, that sacrificing a pair of baby goats would seem to be about as effective. (If we don’t get rain, we can always have cabrito!)
Republicans and social conservatives love this debate for the same reasons Democrats avoid it: it’s easy to paint Democrats with the “Godless Liberal” brush. Indeed, they’ve convinced themselves that one can be neither a patriot nor a Christian unless one is also a Republican.
Never mind that there is no such thing as a “godless liberal,” or that most political conservatives agree that religion has no place in government or vice-versa. But, for the publicly pious and other social conservatives in rural Texas, it’s kinda like fishing with a stick of dynamite. High-fives all around!
More Democrats should be like Don. We have no reason to be afraid to stand up for the things we believe in, especially where it comes to matters of faith or patriotism, and everything to fear if we don’t.
Good job, Don! Thanks for having the courage to say what needed to be said.
- NYT: Texas’ Perry criticized on prayer event (msnbc.msn.com)
- Rick Perry Urges Other Governors To Join Him At Prayer Event For ‘Nation In Crisis’ (huffingtonpost.com)