Monday, April 9, 2012

Imprecatory Prayers: Protected or Profane

In a Washington Post article published on the 6th, David Gibson describes the recent judiciary ruling by District Court Judge Martin Hoffman regarding “imprecatory” or “curse” prayers. The case in question was brought by Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), with the goal of removing what Weinstein described as undue religious influence in the armed forces. The lawsuit was directed at a former Navy chaplain named Klingenschmitt, who posted on his website, urging followers to prey for the MRFF’s downfall. Judge Hoffman ended up ruling in favor of the defendant in this case, arguing that there was no evidence that recent acts of vandalism of Weinstein’s property were connected to the prayer in question. Weinstein responded “We are disappointed in the ruling because we believe the judge made a mistake in not understanding that imprecatory prayers are code words for trolling for assassins for the Weinstein family, I don’t think the judge understood that these are not regular prayers.” Imprecatory prayers are nothing new in the public forum of America, and have garnered a lot of attention since President Obama was elected.
                That said, this case does raise important questions which were left unaddressed in the ruling. Chief among these questions is the protection such prayers have under the First Amendment regarding the freedom of speech and religion.
As much as it chafes me, I have to agree with Judge Hoffmans ruling. The protection afforded such religious rhetoric ties the states hands until a clear connection between the prayer in question and any criminal acts can be established. That said, I believe that the ruling could have gone in favor of Weinstein if Klingenschmitt were still an acting Navy chaplain. If that were the case, Weinstein could argue an establishment clause violation. The difference between the two situations arises out of the fact that as an active chaplain, Klingenschmitt would be representing the Government and the conversation would no longer be in an open forum. One counter argument to this position would be the precedent of “civic deism,” even though that concept has only been used to justify such things as opening prayers before congressional meetings and the presence of the 10 commandments in Courthouses. I would counter such an argument by raising the question of the intended role of the Chaplain within the structure of the armed forces, and whether such prayers fell within the scope of his positions duties, especially if that prayer was directed at another member of the armed services.

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