Is it kosher to force your neighbors to pray?

Is it kosher to force your neighbors to pray? No, it is not. I hope the Supreme Court agrees. Noah Feldman sees the issue too broadly in his op-ed, "The Founders Prayed, Why Can’t the City Council?" at Bloomberg - regarding the lawsuit over prayer at public meetings in Greece, NY.

Coercion is part of life. I believe coercing religion on other people should not be tolerated. I am against it whether it is Christians in America coercing Jews and atheists to hear their prayers or whether is it the Orthodox in Israel forcing non-religious Jews to follow their strictures.

Thoughts on coercion: There are many forms of coercion. Some are overt and pushy. Others are subtle and even seductive. Those may be more dangerous because it takes us time to detect them.

Some coercion is good for you. Some is good for other people, but not for you. It's best to ask "who benefits" from the coercion, and it is usually them, not you.

Some coercions make sense and some coercions defy logic. Some are serious and some are comical. Some are urgent and current and others are nostalgic and historic.

In America we believe that life is better lived with less coercion and more freedom of choice. It's silly to argue that I should be free to coerce you to do something. Freedom is absolute and two sided.

Thoughts on prayer: All good prayer is poetry. All prayer is ritual. Many prayers are a framing devices. They mark the beginning and end of other activities, like a meal. That's confusing to some who think we need to frame a council meeting with a prayer. We don't. Politics is not sacred and no matter what we do to frame it with rituals, we cannot make the profanity of politics into a sacred activity.

I think the founding fathers were wrong allowing prayers to open sessions of congress. I think they were joking around, giving the reverends some ceremonial role to make them feel good because they were not going to cede them any influence over public life in America.

For a time recently (and I hope that time is passing) the Christian right organized into a political bloc and did have some ostensible influence over politics in the public arena. That was not what our founding fathers envisioned.

Within a religious group of like minded members, prayer is an expression of common beliefs. Prayer is a hope for relief or guidance or reward -- primarily for the members -- and as an afterthought for the universe.

Feldman believes that "What’s most likely is that the court will reaffirm the exceptional nature of legislative prayer, warn the town against official coercion, and live with the contradictions between past and present."

That's like punting on first down. It makes no sense to those who understand the nature of the game. I hope the justices take a stand on this. I think they do know the game and will not avoid some aggressive play.

America is stronger when all coercion is limited and when all prayer is kept out of our public political life.

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