Praying for God to Harm Someone is Not Illegal
The Story: A Texas judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Mikey Weinstein against a former Navy chaplain who he said used "curse" prayers like those in Psalm 109 to incite others to harm the Jewish agnostic and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and his family.
The Background: In 2009, Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, filed a lawsuit in a Texas court against former Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, Jim Ammerman, and Ammerman's Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches. Weinstein claimed they were conspiring to encourage violence against him and that Klingenschmitt used "imprecatory prayers" to urge his followers to commit acts of violence against Weinstein.
As David Gibson of Religion News explains, the ruling did not actually turn on constitutional questions as much as it did on Weinstein's claims that the prayers incited the threats and vandalism. District Court Judge Martin Hoffman dismissed the case because, he ruled, the plaintiffs had shown no connection between the prayers and the threats and vandalism suffered by Weinstein's family
Gibson also notes that Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer, claims that because of his activism he has received numerous death threats, had swastikas painted on his house, had his windows shot out, and animal carcasses left on his doorstep.
Klingenschmitt, whose activism led to his being dimissed from the Navy with a dishonorable discharge, responded to the ruling by saying, "I praise God for religious freedom because the judge declared it's OK to pray imprecatory prayers and quote Psalm 109."
Why It Matters: John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a legal advocacy group that helped defend Klingenschmitt, says, "Thankfully, the district court recognized that if people are forced to stop offering imprecatory prayers, half the churches, synagogues and mosques in this country will have to be shut down." But there is a distinct differences between reading the imprecatory psalms in church and praying that they be applied to those who disagree with us about matters of public policy.
As John Piper explains in reference to the imprecatory psalms:
We will grant to the psalmist (usually David), who speaks, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as the foreshadowed Messiah and Judge, the right to call down judgment on the enemies of God. This is not personal vindictiveness. It is a prophetic execution of what will happen at the last day when God casts all his enemies into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). We would do well to leave such final assessments to God, and realize our own corrupt inability to hate as we ought. While there is unforgivable sin for which we are not to pray, we are told to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us, and return good for evil. This is our vocation by faith. Let us tremble and trust God, lest we fail, and find ourselves on the other side of the curse.