To the editor:
Chairman Randy Douglas of the Essex County Board of Supervisors should be commended for his recent decision to discontinue public prayer prior to meetings.
Any such formal or informal practice is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The wall of separation between church and state was established early in our history and remains a fundamental constitutional principle.
Thomas Jefferson famously advocated this belief in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, when he wrote that a governmental body should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
One hundred and fifty years earlier, Roger Williams incorporated this same principle in establishing the colony of Rhode Island. The liberty-loving Puritan minister firmly believed religious matters ought to remain separate and apart from government influence. By the standards of both Williams and Jefferson, only through this view of individual rights in relation to the state would the full range of liberty and freedom of conscience be safeguarded for all members of society.
Although not indifferent toward religion, the nation's founding fathers also embraced a healthy skepticism about mixing politics with religion.
Despite the repetitive claims of religious zealots testifying to the personal religiosity of the founders, there is no such evidence found in the text of the Constitution.
It's hardly an oversight that no mention of the deity or the word "God" appears anywhere in the U.S. Constitution.
At times, in fact, at least one famous delegate at the Constitutional Convention demonstrated a joking irreverence about any reliance on a higher supernatural authority. During that hot Philadelphia summer of 1787, Benjamin Franklin proposed that the sessions of the convention be preceded by a prayer but was quickly advised by Alexander Hamilton that America wasn't in need of more foreign aid.
According to one of his recent biographers, when Hamilton was later asked why there was no reference to God in the document he replied, no doubt with a smile, "We forgot."
Contrary to the thinking of religious fundamentalists and pseudo-conservative opinion, the "wall of separation" is wisely and deeply embedded in the American political tradition.