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Rev. Dr. Albert Pennybacker, President of The Interfaith Alliance made the following statement on 1997-MAR-24.

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Good afternoon, my name is Rev. Dr. Albert Pennybacker and I am the president of The Interfaith Alliance, a national grassroots organization with 110 local chapters and 40,000 members drawn from over 45 different faith communities.

It is long established that the right to private personal prayer anywhere is protected. Every citizen has a right to his or her own faith, as well as a right to be protected from coercion by those who wish to impose their faith on others. Let us avoid ill-conceived new formulas which will enable the religious purposes and sensibilities of one part of our society to coerce all the rest of us.

Why is it that some legislators and so-called "pro-family" groups claim it is anti-family for the government to feed the poor, but that same government is uniquely qualified to impose something as important and personal as the appropriate expression of religious faith on our children. It is a family's solemn duty and fundamental right to teach their children the religion of their choice without interference from political activists turned government bureaucrats. School prayer is not a one size fits all commodity.

While in the 1960's some religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell used religion to justify racial discrimination, in the 1990's the Christian Coalition is now outrageously trying to play the role of discrimination victim in pushing the so called Religious Equality Amendment. They show a profound blind spot for what real discrimination is and they should know better.

As we approach the end of Lent, I believe it is appropriate to look back to a Gospel many of us heard on Ash Wednesday. The Gospel of Matthew 6:5-6 is as appropriate today, especially today, as it ever has been. Matthew tells us:

'And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men...But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.'

Prayer is too personal a matter to be put into the hands of any government. Matters of faith are best left to families and their own, freely chosen faith communities. Let us silently and sincerely pray that our leaders will understand and respect this sacred trust.

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