Sorting our mail after being away for a few weeks, we found a slick, four-color postcard addressed to "Resident" entitled "Prayer and the Environment."
It announces a lecture by Ron Ballard, a "practitioner and teacher of Christian Science healing," who is from the First Church of Christ Scientist in Menlo Park. The free lecture is Jan. 24 and it is being given in the Menlo Park City Council Chambers.
This lecture is presented by the Menlo Park Church of Christ, Scientist. The Web site and telephone number on the card all connect to the Christian Science church or reading room in Menlo Park. In short, this is a religious presentation by a religious organization. And according to the title, it is about prayer.
Based on his titles and profession, we can expect that Mr. Ballard will not speak about the environment in a secular way. To the contrary, it is reasonable to anticipate a strong Christian Science (which opposes secular science) and spiritual/religious thrust to his presentation. He asks us to "enjoy the landscape of hope," whatever that means. The text on the card makes a great deal of the Christian Science basis of this presentation, including an introduction by a Christian Science Monitor reporter. On the card, nothing specific is said about the environment.
We find this arrangement totally unacceptable. While we bear no antipathy toward "Christian Science," we are firm believers in the First Amendment "establishment" clause, which mandates separation of church and state. We do not want our city hall facilities made available for religious purposes of any kind, despite the overlay of environmentalism.
We do not object to Mr. Ballard's presentation, whatever the subject. However, we do object, strongly, to the use of a public, tax-based, civic venue for apparently religious purposes. It creates the appearance of city council and administration endorsement. Environmentalism is based on science, not "Christian Science," which is a Christian teaching and a church.
We wish to state this in the strongest terms: We do not believe that it is legal or appropriate to provide a venue in a public civic facility for a "Prayer and the Environment" presentation by any religious group, seemingly under the auspices of the Menlo Park city government. We are asking this lecture permit in the council chambers (or any other Menlo Park facility) be withdrawn.
Martin and Judith Engel-Orasanu live on Stone Pine Lane in Menlo Park.