If you respect the separation of church and state mandated by our Constitution, you can find better ways to start Senate hearings than saying a prayer. Yet this is just what our senators do, and the start of the debates on the reproductive health bill were no different.
What bothers me more than the fact that a prayer was said in a supposedly secular setting was what the prayer implied, politically.
The prayer was supposed to be led by Senator Panfilo Lacson, but because of problems with his voice, he asked Senator Vicente Sotto to do it in his place. Considering the content of the prayer, I’m sure Sotto was more than happy to oblige.
The prayer was originally delivered in 1996 by American Pastor Joe Wright to the Kansas House of Representatives. Legislators, including the House minority leader, criticized the prayer for its “extreme, radical” views. At least one legislator walked out. When the same prayer was said in the Colorado House of Representatives later that year, more legislators were angered; several walked out.
The reaction of our own senators to the same prayer was apathy—it was just another prayer. But senators who respect secularism, especially those who support the reproductive health bill, should have reacted at least as strongly as the American legislators did.
Not only is the prayer sectarian, it’s also anti-choice, and therefore, anti-RH. Here it is in full:
Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance. We know your Word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.
We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word and called it moral pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.
We have abused power and called it political savvy.
We have coveted our neighbors’ possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our fore-fathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us O God and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by you, to govern this great state. Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
What do these words imply?
“Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance. We know your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.”
Right from the start, the prayer privileges Judeo-Christian religions over non-Abrahamic ones. It implies that talk on good and evil should be done in religious terms, and it precludes the possibility of secular morality.
“We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word and called it moral pluralism.”
This implies that the Christian Bible is the basis for truth, and that pluralism —respecting the beliefs of many religions instead of just one—is bad.
“We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.”
So belonging to religions other than Christianity is wrong?
“We have killed our unborn and called it choice.”
Although our senators do not support killing the unborn, this statement frames the discourse by associating choice with abortion, a tactic frequently used by anti-RH legislators and advocates.
“We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.”
This part is more relevant to a previous Senate hearing on the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ “Kulo” issue. Just the same, it privileges the Christian perspective as the arbiter of what’s profane and pornographic.
“We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.”
This implies that the “time-honored values” criticized by the Enlightenment —theocracy, anti-rationalism, clericalism, etc.—are better than Enlightenment values—democracy, rationalism, secularism.
“I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ.”
Although most senators are Christian, the content of the prayer promotes a particular brand of conservative Christianity. What’s worse, the prayer completely ignores the beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and other non-Christian Filipinos our legislators are equally obligated to represent.
After Sotto concluded the prayer, not a single senator walked out. As far as I know, none have criticized it. Instead the other senators reverently made the sign of the cross and raised their bowed heads—like they always do. After all, it was just another prayer.