Update: According to this story, Senior Citizens, Inc., has backed down. Further details don't appear to be available right now. I'll be checking tomorrow. Hmm. Guess they couldn't find those "guidelines." Or they looked at them and said, "Oh. It doesn't actually say that."
What in tarnation is going on here?
At Ed Young Senior Citizens Center in Port Wentworth, Georgia, meals are provided a low cost to elderly visitors. The low cost is made possible by federal subsidies. The caterers of the meal noticed (I know that this will shock you) that people were praying out loud over their partially-federally-subsidized meals at the senior center and decided--you guessed it--that this violated the "separation of church and state." The elderly folks have been told that they may pray only silently over these meals, and a "moment of silence" is now being observed before meals while the matter is hashed out among the busybody meal contractors, the city attorney, and the mayor. (The elderly are generously permitted to pray mentally before the federally funded meals. Whoopee!)
Now, this is nuts. My local Catholic hospital receives (I'm sure of it) federal funds and broadcasts a prayer over the loudspeaker every morning at something like 8 a.m. I've heard it any number of times. Religiously based colleges receive federal funding indirectly through tuition grants, and they have chapel services, masses, and every other religious observation you can mention. Plus (ya think?) the students are allowed to pray out loud over their cafeteria meals.
On its face, it appears that Senior Citizens, Inc., is going over the top in its interpretation of so-called "federal guidelines." But then again, I don't want to jump to conclusions. What are these federal guidelines they are alluding to, and what makes them think that they forbid the recipients of the meals to pray out loud over them? Says the upset mayor, who "flirted" with discontinuing the contract but apparently decided not to do so, "[T]he best answer right now is that we're trying to get the best information possible and legal council is looking at what would happen if we continued to pray." Yeah, what would happen?
I'd love to see some investigative reporter actually ask Senior Citizens, Inc., to provide a copy of the "operational guidelines" they are citing and to publish the relevant part that supposedly means that old ladies can't pray out loud over their baked chicken.
But even if Senior Citizens, Inc., and the city attorney and mayor decide that the interpretation of the guidelines is wrong and allow the elderly to start praying out loud again, it is a bad, bad omen that this has happened.