The following editorial appeared January 17 in the Grunion Gazette, the weekly newspaper in Long Beach, California. It was written by Executive Editor Harry Saltzgaver, who attends Grace Community Church of Seal Beach (Don Shoemaker, pastor).
Religion was mentioned Tuesday at the Long Beach City Council meeting.
It has been too long since that has happened. A few years ago, after protests from ACLU types and what I believe to have been an over-abundance of caution, the traditional invocation to open council meetings was replaced by “a moment of silence to contemplate.”
That invocation had been offered by everyone from Baptist ministers to Buddhist monks. I even recall at least one Native American shaman, although I must admit that I don’t remember the last time I saw a Muslim Imam standing before the council.
Elimination of the invocation took place quietly – no protests, no banner headlines. It just sort of happened.
That’s sad. At the risk of sounding flip and not meaning to, our city leaders can use every bit of help they can get. That’s true of every leader in our country, no, our world.
Some apparently felt uncomfortable about a public prayer, no matter who was doing the praying. So be it.
But don’t expect religion to go away. My pastor, Don Shoemaker, certainly doesn’t.
A longtime Long Beach resident, Shoemaker is senior pastor at Grace Community Church in Seal Beach. He long has been active in area and national religious organizations, and has never hesitated to make his opinion known, particularly when it comes to the freedom to worship.
His pet peeve is the fact the Long Beach Marathon is run on a Sunday, and blocks roads people normally use to get to churches. But that is fodder for another column.
Shoemaker is nothing if not proactive. This time around, he took the ball of Religious Freedom Day and ran with it.
As every schoolchild knows, religious freedom was one of, maybe the, founding principles of this nation. For some time, that freedom has been emphasized as a freedom from religion in government affairs. The other side of the coin has, in my opinion, been given short shrift.
But back to the story. Shoemaker had noticed that the federal government had begun (in 1994) to mark Jan. 16 as Religious Freedom Day. The date is the anniversary of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, passed on Jan. 16, 1786.
So he formed a committee and drafted a proclamation that would make Jan. 16 Religious Freedom Day in Long Beach. Note that it does not say Religious Day. To quote the proclamation:
“Our country has embraced a tradition of religious liberty É where people have been lift free to choose which faith they shall follow or none at all.”
Shoemaker garnered support from both conservative and liberal religious leaders for his proclamation. Then he went to his council representative, Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, and got it on the Jan. 15 agenda.
I have no clue what Schipske’s spiritual walk is, nor do I want to know. I give her credit for recognizing a basic American right and moving it forward in Long Beach.
Bottom line for me: I’m not asking everyone to pray with me, I’m just asking for the right to pray. I think Pastor Shoemaker made that a little easier this week, and for that I’m thankful.
Now you can have that moment of silence from me.