In case you missed it, this is the Invocation I gave at the City Council meeting on July 2, 2019:
We are meeting today because our normal meeting day falls on July 4th this year. I wonder if we should have left the meeting on its originally scheduled day, as a commemoration of the declaration of self-governance that day signifies in our country, but I understand that I might have been the only person willing to support that idea, interfering with the potential for creating a 4 day weekend.
The Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 was essentially our Founders’ Mission Statement. The sister document to that, our Constitution, became our rule book, effective March 4, 1789, almost 13 years later.
At adoption the Constitution contained 7 articles that described the operation of the federal and state governments, and the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments which described individual rights. I believe the first of these amendments is easily the most important:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Of these enumerated rights—religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition for redress—the first listed is religion and I think that was deliberate, because of how sensitive that topic was to many of the first settlers in the New World.
Article VI of the Constitution also addressed religious freedom, stating in the third paragraph:
…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Yet, just a few years earlier, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, 9 of 13 colonies barred Catholics and Jews from holding office. On a variety of points—religion, gender, race—for 230 years our Constitution has been more of an ideal to strive for than a reality.
In the 19th century Protestants attempted to block Catholic immigration and in the 1920s Congress restricted immigration in part to keep out Jews.
However, as Dr. King liked to say, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The U.S. Supreme Court session that began in October 2015, seated 9 Justices, 6 Catholics and 3 Jews.
It is accepted science that diversity in genetics creates a healthy strength in a population, and many believe that is also true on a social and political level. One analysis of the establishment clause of the Constitution is that it was intended to create a multiplicity of faiths for the strength that diversity could provide to our fledgling country.
Intentional or not, that has worked. The Census Bureau indicates well over 50 distinct religions in the U.S. The 3 most commonly known groups each have varied factions—Christianity with a large assortment of denominations, Judaism in reform and orthodox continuums, and Islam with its Sunni and Shite sects. But there is so
much more than that, with Unitarians, Hindis, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Shintoists, Wiccans, Pagans, Native Americans, Baha’i, Zoroastrians, Rastafari, and any number of other sects too small to show up on a census.
According to a Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study, the largest denomination in the U. S. is Catholicism at about 21% of the population. Jews are about 2% and Muslims about 1%. The “Unaffiliated” group (agnostic and atheist) are about 23%.
So, for our invocation today I ask you to join me in a moment of silence as we each give thanks in our own way for being a part of this American experiment, and seek ways to be more tolerant of those whose beliefs are different from ours.
(Some details from the May 17, 2019 issue of Newsweek magazine in an essay adapted from “Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom” by Steven Waldman, as well as the Pew Research Center website and the U. S. Census Bureau.)