Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another Sonny Day in Georgia

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's decision to hold a prayer service outside the state Capitol yesterday petitioning to God for relief from the state's record drought was met with mixed reviews.

Although Sonny followed the politically correct protocol by inviting members of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu faiths to participate, his attempt at inclusiveness still wasn't good enough for some of Georgia's self-proclaimed "non-theistic" citizens.

Members of the ironically named Atlanta Free Thought Society believe that Sonny overstepped his Constitutional bounds as an elected official by endorsing religion in his official capacity.

Various organizations protested at the Capitol, carrying sarcastic signs that read, "Is it raining yet?" and "All hail Sonny Perdue!" press reports indicated.

I must admit that I probably wouldn't be too excited if Sonny organized some kind of animistic sacrifice on the Capitol steps, but what these Free Thoughters forget is that governors are citizens too, and that elected officials are not legally required to check their faith at the door to the gold-domed Capitol.

For those who haven't had civics class in awhile, here's the text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. See if you can find here a reason to prohibit a state governor for practicing his faith in public:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Now, I realize that there is a very long and complex history of Supreme Court decisions that have brought legal interpretations to where they are today, but I can't help looking back at my free speech in wartime class from last year and second-guessing the Supreme Court's competency in handling complicated matters relating to free speech. (It's interesting how the same people that preach Supreme Court historical precedent on issues like Roe v. Wade would condemn the actions of the very same court during wartime repression of dissenting voices). And I also can't help but think that anti-religious zealots simply use events like this just to further their own antagonistic agendas.

The truth is, those who claim agnosticism hold to a worldview that brings its own premises of faith to the table. Every belief, whether scientific or not, is only as true as the epistemological source it comes from. Some get their beliefs from science textbooks, some from holy books. Some believe what their preacher says, others their professor, therapist or guru. I'm not preaching some postmodern mumbo-jumbo that everyone's truth is equally valid. Far from it. I'm saying that everyone's perception of the truth is influenced by some facts that are not empirically verifiable, meaning that everyone carries some degree of faith, whether it be in God or in their own logic.

So free-thoughters, lighten up. No one's interrupting your enlightened little thinking parties, and the same Bill of Rights that gives you the ability to stand on the steps with your inconsiderate signs gives Sonny the right to ask the One who gives rain to send it a-pourin'.

Note: I'm not debating the efficacy of prayer in this context, only trying to give credence to Sonny's right do it. Why God has allowed this drought to go on is unclear, but the faithful will certainly pray, and they will also certainly accept God's decision to bring rain or let us run dry.

On a more personal note, I had to defend ole Sonny today in two different contexts.

At a conference on solar energy, a guy told me that he thought it was a bit ridiculous that the only thing the governor is doing about the drought is organizing a prayer vigil. For one, I said, that's not the only thing he's doing. Well, I wish he would've done something nine months ago, came the response.

But in the context of prayer, Sonny humbly admitted the government's inadequacy in the area of conservation, I answered. The man didn't really respond. It seems his desire to criticize was greater than his desire to think. And if Sonny, by some feat of divination, got a premonition about the drought before it happened and enacted measures to prevent it, I'm sure that these same sort of folks would be questioning his use of spiritual sources.

My second defense of Sonny was a bit less entertaining. Someone challenged his handling of the drought, and I simply pointed out that the governor is receiving the brunt of the criticism because the crisis is happening under his watch. Unpreparedness is a team effort where government is concerned.

To end, I just have one question and its candid answer:

Did you invite representatives from various faiths to petition the Lord for rain, and then receive a lot of crap about it?

Sonny did.

For one of my newest articles on the governor and a great picture of Sonny at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, go to

1 comment:

Drew said...

First, the first amendment applies to Congres (i.e. the federal government) not the state of Georgia. However, I'm sure the state of Georgia probably has a similar clause it in its constitution.

Secondly, if I'm an atheist I would probably think that praying to some God that doesn't exist is stupid but why should it piss me off? Shouldn't people be allowed to do whatever makes them feel better so long as it doesn't harm anyone else?

Third, the director of a former job that I worked at, who has been working on state policy for 50 years told me that the state had the opportunity/plans to "fix" the water problem in the 1970s. I wasn't exactly sure what he meant by that but basically it boiled down to the state not being willing to fork over a lot of money and refusing to believe that the problem could get so bad (due to growth of Atlanta, etc.). Lastly, if all this guy wanted was for earlier cries for water conservation, then he is ignorant. We lose most of water to evaporation. If we reduce our usage by not watering our lawns or washing our cars or whatever it really doesn't make that much difference. A day or two more water, tops. Also, it's not that the water is simply going to dry up. The problem is we have to have a certain amount of water to dillute the sewage that we put back into the rivers (by federal guidelines).