To The Editor:
I feel compelled to respond to the letter from Joe Orthwerth, director of the Missouri Family Policy Council. Although the Missouri Family Policy Council’s Newsletter masthead bills itself as a “Voice for Truth,” Mr. Orthwerth’s letter is filled with misleading and untrue statements.
He commends Commissioner Griesheimer for leading a prayer before a public meeting, a practice, he asserts, that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, in the case he cites, sectarian prayer was not even the issue. Mr. Griesheimer was not challenged on the basis of an opening prayer, but rather that he chose to offer only Christian prayers, a practice the courts have consistently struck down, and which gives the impression that those constituents who do not share his faith are second class citizens, unwelcome in the halls of Franklin County government.
Second, Mr. Orthwerth refers to Americans United for Separation of Church and State as an anti-religious group. This is an absolute falsehood. Americans United was founded in 1947 by a broad coalition of religious, educational and civic leaders. Prominent in this coalition were Baptist, Jewish, and Seventh-day Adventist clergy, and Christian Science Church leaders, all of whom realized that should the government ever favor one church over another, it likely was not going to be theirs. They knew that the best way to preserve religious freedom for all was to keep religion out of government and government out of religion, not asking the government to do for their religion what they wouldn’t want the government to do for other religions.
Americans United remains, to this day, the foremost voice for religious liberty in the United States. Our national director, Dr. Barry Lynn, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. My predecessor, as president of the St. Louis Chapter, was senior pastor of a Baptist Church for more than 30 years. The president of the Board of Americans United is a rabbi. The St. Louis Chapter meets in a Presbyterian Church. Our leadership includes pastors from numerous denominations, and our membership includes members of many diverse faith groups and churches that make our country strong.
Mr. Orthwerth may believe and worship as he wishes but he should not resort to making untrue statements about others just because his religious and political views are different than theirs. As a Christian he should consider the words of Christ in Matthew:6 calling those who insist on praying in public hypocrites. When his fundamentalist zeal causes him to blatantly misrepresent the truth, he must be called on it.