I saw this silly story earlier on Drudge, but with the busy day ahead, it didn’t register until later.
Senior citizens in Port Wentworth (Savannah), GA were told they could no longer openly pray before their meals at the Senior Center since the meals were being subsidized by federal funds.
Tim Rutherford, Senior Citizens Inc. vice president, said some of his staff recently visited the center and noticed people praying shortly before lunch was served. Rutherford said his company provides meals like baked chicken, steak tips and rice and salads at a cost of about $6 a plate. Seniors taking the meals pay 55 cents and federal money foots the rest of the bill, Rutherford said.
“We can’t scoff at their rules,” he said of federal authorities. “It’s a part of the operational guidelines.”
Rutherford said the moment of silence was introduced to protect that funding. He said although the change may have been misinterpreted, perhaps his company could have done a better job selling it.
“It’s interpreted that we’re telling people that they can’t pray, but we aren’t saying that,” he said. “We’re asking them to pray to themselves. Have that moment of silence.”
Mayor [Glenn] Jones said he was outraged by the change and has promised to find a solution.
[Preston] Blackwelder said the center’s already fragile visitors have been rattled.
“This is, in my view, an unnecessary intrusion into the private lives of individuals. It’s a bad place to draw a line in the sand.”
Unbelievable. Then I had my own own personal encounter with government encroachment this morning.
A census worker walked down my driveway, waving his badge at me like I was Annie Oakley, or something. He asked about the house next door – saying there had been no response. He had a keen eye for the obvious, because he nodded when I said, “It’s vacant.” Little did he know that I was furiously trying to think up some witty response about Chianti and fava beans. He kept nervously flipping his paper over. Maybe he had super powers and could read my mind. Naahhh. After a few more questions, of which he got little to no information from me, he vamoosed up the drive like I’d turned the hose on him.
We’re getting plenty of e-mail on this subject blaming the federal government, but it’s unclear exactly what prompted SCI to suspend open grace at its meal services. Unless SCI insisted on saying grace as a part of its meal delivery, the federal government would have no interest at all in what was said and unsaid at table. People who receive federal assistance in other areas are perfectly within their rights to pray for thanks about it, whether that’s food stamps, welfare, or any other form of assistance. The government and its agents can’t force someone to pray as a prerequisite for receiving assistance, which is a big difference.
Note, too, that SCI wasn’t leading the prayers, either. They insisted that people stop praying on their own as the meals were served. If anything, that imposes a religious requirement of silence on accepting the meals that should also run afoul of the First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of religious observation. The government can’t set standards that requires conservatives or liberals to silence themselves as a prerequisite to receiving federal assistance, either.
If I had to guess, I’d say that the problem here is SCI’s interpretation of the guidelines than the guidelines themselves. That doesn’t make the problem go away for those who believe that every meal should be preceded by thanks to the Lord for his provisions, though. The city needs to expedite its consultation with legal counsel and determine whether SCI is actually stuck between a rock and a hard place or has rocks in its collective head.
If this baloney (no pun intended) is allowed to stand, or better yet is held up in a court of “law”, then what’s next? Banning prayer from private homes that receive Social Security? Banning scooters bought with Medicare money from conveying their passengers into a house of worship? Banning Jesus Is My Co-Pilot bumper stickers on GM cars?