Yesterday, a Madeline Ziegler of the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, WI e-mailed me a letter (which can be read here) objecting to prayer being involved in the City of Mission Viejo’s Memorial Day ceremony and demanding that prayer be excluded from this ceremony.
I would like to share my response with OC Daily readers:
Thank you for your note.
For clarification, Monday is Memorial Day and not “Veterans Day” as noted in your letter.
First, I wish to convey my thanks for your capitalization of the words, “Christian” and “Christianity” in your letter.
Second, to be clear, Mission Viejo has held similar Memorial Day ceremonies for over two decades. We host comparable events every Veterans’ Day and our city is well known for our support of our deceased, retired and active duty personnel. From collecting diapers for the babies of service personnel at Camp Pendleton to honoring an enlisted and commissioned service member quarterly at our Council Meetings, the level of support, admiration and volunteerism that flows from the community is second to none in the state of California.
Third, I was raised by a father who fled communism from Hungary in the 50s and devoted himself to raising men of honor and character. That said, if someone takes umbrage with me, the City, the Council or my colleagues, my expectation is communication from the aggrieved party, not the transfer of their indignation to a legal proxy to seek resolution.
On to the points of your correspondence.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. The term “Separation of Church and State”, does not appear in the Constitution, it is noted in a casual letter from Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in CT in 1802. Jefferson played no role in the crafting of the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black (KKK member) brought it to the fore in one of his minority opinions.
In Paragraph 4 you note that, “the U.S Constitution prohibits the sponsorship of religious messages”. I believe such an assertion flies in face of the naming of United State locales. Hawaii (ancient Polynesian for “place of the gods”), and numerous cities with Biblical or religious origins: Athens GA, Phoenix AZ, Bethlehem CT, Zion GA, Goshen IN, Mount of Olives KY, Nazareth TX, Moab UT, the capitol of CA Sacramento (Sacrament), and the dreaded Saint Cities of San Antonio, St. Louis, San Diego, Saint Paul (another capitol in MN), San Francisco (CA again). I could go on and on, but you get the drift.
I fail to see how a Memorial Day invocation compares to the millions of people living under the oppression of such names on their home addresses and US sanctioned mail. A daily (except Sunday) reminder.
Also in Paragraph 4 we are treated to the legal cases in which you attempt to buttress your main argument. I note a few points in your citations. In McCreary, the item at issue was the display of the Ten Commandments in the public square. I assure you, the City will not be christening a monument of such at our event on Monday. In Wallace, the issue was silent school prayer. Our Memorial Day Observance is not on school grounds nor is attendance compulsory, which was one of the arguments made by the justices in excluding it from the public school (as school attendance is mandatory). Once again, not applicable.
Epperson dealt with the teaching of evolution in public schools (which was upheld) once again an education citation and not applicable to a Memorial Ceremony. And of course, a favorite, Everson. In it, the Court found that giving a dime to a 9 year old child to ride the subway in New Jersey was ok for a public school student, but the absolute destruction of the Republic as we know it to let a kid going to private school get one. We as a nation subsidize every level of special interest imaginable to move forward a view of social justice, from corporate welfare to paying people directly for lethargy. However, when it comes to giving a bus pass to a little girl going to a private school to learn her alphabet and how to count, well that is just beyond our ability to permit. Surely, a moment of pride for the legal profession; undoubtedly this was a cornerstone of the goal of some to establish religion in the country, and had nothing to do with parents wanting to educate their children.
You end Paragraph 4 with a declaration that, “It also excludes nonreligious veterans”. I am an electrical engineer who takes the meaning of words very seriously. There is no exclusionary targeting any individual or group, and your assertions do nothing to promote your opinion. And it is just that, your opinion. The event is free for all and anyone may participate as they see fit. You represent the ceremony as a 60 minute devotional, which, had you reviewed the program, you would observe is not the case.
And I fail to see your reasoning in citing Galloway in Paragraph 5. In the opinion of the court, “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.” There is no, “prescribing prayers to be recited”. There will be no rehearsed chanting, coordinated kneeling or use of incense. Why the need for the hyperbole? Did you think most elected leaders don’t take the time to review your citations and differentiate between your opinions and how we conduct our legislative and commemorative duties?
And finally, I certainly do not need your viewpoint on how to, “demonstrate the City of Mission Viejo’s respect for the diverse range of religious and non-religious veterans”. There will be thousands of similar ceremonies all over the country, honoring our fallen war heroes. Celebrations at Federal Cemeteries and associated locales, same for hundreds of state and county cemeteries in California alone. To be consistent and maintain your own moral clarity, I believe you must proceed with similar admonitions at all such celebrations nationwide.
So to share with you the steps I am taking to resolve this matter, I take but one.
The Memorial Day Ceremony in Mission Viejo will go on exactly as planned.
Feel free to share this correspondence with whomever you wish
Mayor, City of Mission Viejo