In Gospel Doctrine Sunday School class today, some rather typical comments surfaced about how the government tries to destroy religion. I was just about to say something, but then the topic changed and the teacher asked me to read a scripture on pride and riches. Fine by me.
But my response would have been some sense of befuddlement. I have been a federal employee for 28 years now and I can't think of a time when the government has in anyway prohibited my belief or practice of my religion in the workplace. I have prayed at work--a lot--if only silently (that whole praying in the closet thing). There have been times, too many to count, where I actually closed my office door and knelt in prayer like Washington maybe didn't even do at Valley Forge. (While a praying man, many historians maintain he wasn't a public kneeler).
In fact, not only am I unaware of any law or policy prohibiting my practice of religion, there are actually laws and policies in place, not to mention the First Amendment, that actually protect and defend my religious belief and practices. If I were ever denied a promotion or other benefit or subject to workplace harassment for my religion, I would have a legal remedy under federal law. Such discrimination is not only wrong, it is illegal and unconstitutional.
It was even President Clinton, of all people, who issued a policy guide on religion in the federal workplace heavy on the protection side. You can believe and practice as long as you don't interfere with other people in their beliefs or lack thereof. It says you can use religious dress if it doesn't interfere with your work. You can have a bible or other scriptures on your desk as long as there is not a perception of the government promoting a particular religion. I have invited non-member co-workers to church meetings and some have actually come. I have had copies of the Book of Mormon in my office and even given them out to friends and work associates. Currently, I have pictures of the Salt Lake, Albuquerque, and Bountiful Temples on my desk (along with President Lincoln. Oh, and one of General U.S. Grant).
I have even been to numerous work meetings where prayers have been offered. I guess I have to explain that a little. I do a lot of work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and we often meet with Tribal leaders. They often offer prayers and the feds respectfully sit or stand--sometimes individual feds even say "amen" (or may even know the particular Native American language of the prayer to provide the appropriate response). This is somewhat of an exception to the general rules arising from the fact that the First Amendment does not apply to Indian Tribes, the Indian Civil Rights Act doesn't prohibit such religious expression, and there are other laws on the books to respect traditional Native American practices as an aspect of tribal culture and vestigial tribal sovereignty under Federal Indian Law.
I think that people's concerns arise from the public disputes about public religious practices organized and promoted by the government institution itself, particularly public schools. The government can't prohibit anyone from praying, it simply cannot promote public expressions with an imprint of government approval or promotion because of the First Amendment. If even the conservatives would sit back and think about this for a minute, do they really want the government they think "is the problem" to be in charge of religious practices? The reason a lot of our ancestors came to this country was precisely to avoid that sort of thing.
And here's a more practical consideration. My wife who taught public school some years ago in the State of Maryland, commented once that she was glad there was no official prayer presented like they did for the general Pledge of Allegiance recitation over the school loudspeaker. If the students disrespected prayer like they disrespected the pledge, she would want no part of it. If you want prayer in school, go to a religious school. A public school should not be promoting a particular religion. Or you could just take your kids to the church of your choice and teach them what you want at home. That's called religious freedom (still fully protected under the U.S. Constitution).
Good thing I have a blog so I don't have to stir up all my contention in Sunday School.
God bless America and all the peoples of the world. (We certainly need it.)