Religion in public life: careful what you pray for

May 10, 2011

You quoted one of the participants in last week's National Day of Prayer event in Bel Air as saying that "this is like patriotism and spiritual work combined" ("Dozens gather in Bel Air to observe National Day of Prayer", May 6).

The singing of the National Anthem and "America the Beautiful" at the Bel Air event highlighted the quasi-religious character of American patriotism.

The "One-hundred Percent American" campaign of the World War I era unleashed a wave of enforced conformity that, ironically, shredded the Bill of Rights.

And it's no coincidence that Arthur Miller, in his play "The Crucible," used the religious persecution of the Salem Witch Trials as an allegory for the Red Scare of the early Cold War period.

Though seemingly innocuous, the combination of religion and patriotism can heighten the coercive powers of both in times of national emergency or danger.

So be careful what you pray for.

John G. Bailey, Edgemere

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