Editorials, Opinion

Get your ‘church’ out of my ‘state’

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

Since 2005, the Congressional Prayer Caucus has been pushing Christian-based legislation at the federal level and establishing counterparts in state legislatures across the country, including here in West Virginia.

The Congressional Prayer Caucus is a group of primarily Republican lawmakers supported by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation. The foundation, in turn, supports state branches, such the W.Va. Legislative Prayer Caucus in the Senate and the Faith First Caucus in the House of Delegates.

The very existence of the “prayer caucus” in state and national government is a breach of the separation of church and state upon which our country was founded.

West Virginia Sen. Mark Maynard (R-Wayne) proudly sent out press materials at the start of the legislative session that proclaimed members of the two religious caucuses would meet daily to discuss “faith-based” legislation. In his press release, Maynard says, “My end goal is for West Virginia to be a place where individuals leaving other states can escape the tyranny in their states and finding [sic] refuge and the freedom to live their faith-based lifestyles however they choose to.”

Does its advancement of “faith-based lifestyles” include advocating for LGBTQ+ Christians? How about Jews or Muslims? What about other non-Christians and pagans?

Or is its advocacy only based on a very narrow, conservative definition of Western Christianity?

On its website, the West Virginia Legislative Prayer Caucus declares it is “an official West Virginia Caucus whose members are state legislators committed to advancing policies and initiatives that promote … America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and prayer.” The national organization goes further: Its purpose is “advocating for the right of individuals to engage in public prayer and the expression of faith in God, and restoring Judeo-Christian principles to their rightful place.”

Of course, to these lawmakers, religious freedom only applies to Christians — not to other monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam. These are, after all, the masterminds behind the Bible bill that passed last year. In that legislation, the Bible — and only the Bible, not other religions or spiritual practices — can be taught as an elective course in public schools.

Family Policy WV dubs the members of the Faith First Caucus in the House of Delegates “SAGECONs,” or “Spiritually Active Government Engaged Conservatives.” These members are vocally anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice  and pro-forcing their religious beliefs on everyone.

If legislators and congresspeople want to gather to pray before work begins, they are well within their rights to do so — the First Amendment gives them that right. But the existence — and the growing influence  — of an entire voting bloc  dedicated to imposing Christian beliefs and practices on the rest of the population flies in the face of the Constitution.