People have the legal right to pray in public

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2023

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To the Editor:

A TV sports caster recently prayed on live television and many people called him, “courageous” and “brave”. I disagree. I think he was just being a caring person, exercising his First Amendment Right of “freedom of expression.”

By now, even people who don’t really pay attention to sports, probably know the name “Damar Hamlin.” Hamlin is a professional football player with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. On January 2, in Cincinnati, during a live broadcast, Hamlin suffered a heart attack on the field in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Thanks to the fast response of paramedics, athletic trainers from both teams, and the grace of God – Hamlin’s life was saved. In fact, Hamlin is now back in Buffalo where he continues to recover. By all accounts he’s doing well.

The news of Damar Hamlin’s shocking health scare made him a household name in America. More of us should also learn the name, Dan Orlovsky. Orlovsky is a retired NFL player turned college and professional football broadcaster. He works for ESPN. On January 3, Orlovsky was on the set of a live ESPN football talk show, when he announced that he was going to “pray” for Damar Hamlin – and he did.

The positive reaction to Orlovsky’s prayer was surprising to me. People from across the country and beyond, expressed their gratitude that Orlovsky had been so “courageous” and “brave”, as if he’d broken some federal law that prohibits praying on live TV.

To be clear, I too, applauded Orlovsky for his short and sincere prayer that “God” would help and heal Hamilton. Orlovsky ended his petition with the words “in Jesus’s name”, leaving no doubt he believes in the “Christian” faith.

My disdain is for the way so many people reacted to the prayer. It makes me think some people believe US citizens can’t pray in public anymore. Or maybe some people believe it takes “courage” to pray in public, because a lot of people don’t think anyone should. The reality is, in America, people still have the legal right to pray in public places – it’s supported by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

There are a lot of words in the First Amendment. But for this discussion, we need to know that it forbids the US Congress from promoting one type of religion over another. The First Amendment also forbids Congress from making laws that restrict individuals from practicing the religion of their choice.

It is true that many local and state governments have passed laws to limit or stop some religious practices – like praying in public places. But time and time again, when those restrictive laws have been challenged in courts, peoples’ First Amendment right to express and practice religion, have largely been validated.

Still, Dan Orlovsky was taking a “leap of faith” when he exercised his right to religious freedom of expression. To date, neither ESPN nor its parent company – Disney- have publicly chastised him. Maybe Orlovsky was “courageous” and “brave” for praying on live TV. But the truth is, he shouldn’t have to be.

Edwin Horsley