A story out of Exeter, England shows the difference between the courage of at least one British politician and our own collection of American wusses.
At a civic meeting — the American equivalent of which I assume to be a city council meeting — an Exeter councillor named Paul Pettinger refused to stand for a convocational prayer. The Lord Mayor, Hazel Slack, tightened up at this lack of “respect.” Whereupon the Conservative Party leader, Yolanda Henson, according to the Exeter Express & Echo, “said she would work for a new rule requiring anyone who does not want to stand at council meeting prayers to leave the chamber.” Here's Henson’s comment defending her theocratic reaction: “It doesn't matter what religion you are, the Lord Mayor is the representative in Exeter of the Queen.”
Pettinger, an atheist, was not allowed to state why he chose not to take part in the silliness; he was even told by the Lord Mayor that he’d have to leave the room right there and then if he continued to try to explain his position.
Here’s what Pettinger later told the newspaper:
I'm elected to do a job for my residents and the people of Exeter and faith has nothing to do with it. I am a secularist and believe in the complete separation of personal faith and state. I'm an atheist and don't wish to take part in Christian worship. It's highly inappropriate to put pressure on people to act in this way when there are people of so many faiths in this country.Great Britain, I remind my fellow Americans, has no First Amendment, or even any equivalent prohibiting the establishment by government of religion. We do. And yet a Brit has the balls to stand up and say “screw this nonsense,” while our elected representatives, from the highest to the lowest, give religion unquestioning “respect,” in our townships, our cities, our counties, our states, and, indeed, in the halls of the federal Congress, itself— where it is expressly forbidden. Who among our governmental officials has ever dared to utter the opinion that convocational prayer is “highly inappropriate”? No one. Instead, they strive to outdo each other in speaking of their deep belief in god and in preaching (there’s no other honest word for standing in front of a religious congregation and electioneering) to the ignorati in churches, synagogues, and mosques. Not one voice rises up to say, in plain English, as Pettinger’s did: “I believe in the complete separation of personal faith and state.”
Some news reporter looking to make a name for him- or herself ought to ask the current pious crop of presidential contenders what they think of Pettinger’s words. But, of course, the U.S. media is just as craven before the power of Big Religion as the politicos are.
Anyway, the candidates would probably just answer that they’re representatives of the Queen. Or words to that effect.