Prayer at council meetings

As you may have heard Mayor Brede suggested beginning meetings with a prayer during his recent state of the city speech.  The mayor also said many other important things that have been overlooked.  There has been a strong reaction to this and I really hate the personal attacks that I have heard.  The mayor did not suggest to be divisive, but as an opportunity to see the diverse faith groups in the community.  I put out a request for opinions and got some good feedback.  I would withhold final judgement but I see a few issues that may prevent this (not the least of which is this idiot, this idiot, and these idiots).   (Note my personal attacks…)

Mayor Brede is a man of faith and has been a leader on equality issues.  For him to want to share his faith is not something that I see as a shortcoming.  I remain behind him 100%.

Here is what scares me:

City Attorney:

The federal courts have reached this issue on several occasions.  The courts have ruled that the Constitution does allow prayer as part of a public body meeting so long as there is no discrimination as to the denomination or content of the prayer.  In other words, government cannot choose which prayers to allow and which prayers to not allow based upon the prayer content or speaker.  So long as there is no discrimination as to which prayers to allow based upon the content or speaker, there is no violation of the Constitution.

During my 35-year career as a state and local government lawyer, I continue to hear from public officials and citizens that the First Amendment’s requirement of a separation of church and state demands government “hostility” towards all religions.  It does not.  Instead, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, the First Amendment requires government “neutrality” towards religion.

Michael Wojcik:

Does this mean that we would be obligated to allow the Westboro Baptist Church to pray?

City Attorney:

If they signed up and if they agree to stay within the constitutional guidelines (e.g., do not speak in furtherance of or in opposition to a particular religious belief or church), then yes we would.

Michael Wojcik:

Well, that settles that…

Even if we did have the ability to choose who could participate we would then put ourselves in the difficult position of having to choose.  I for one would not want anyone that opposed the total equality of any citizen I represent.  This especially includes the LGBT community that some churches sadly continue to denigrate.

There is also an issue of putting religion in a meeting that also deals with the rights of the agnostic and atheist.  Quite frankly if the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster wanted a turn I would be more supportive of that than some hate group posing as a religion.  But I really don’t want to have to choose.

If some want this, perhaps the time would be 5 minutes before the start of a council meeting.

These are my concerns but at this point nothing has been suggested.  If something comes forward we can discuss it further.

4 comments

  1. We can all pray anytime we want to silently. I suggest x minutes of silence which allows each of us our own private way of payer or meditation.

  2. Keep it simple, keep it fair, keep prayer out.

    While it may be politically correct to support prayer, it is not within the mission of elected institutions to sanction prayer as part of public meetings. Prayer is clearly based on beliefs, not facts that can be supported by empirical data. Too much governance is based on beliefs rather than on facts and the greatest public good.

  3. I’m not sure I would agree completely with the City Attorney’s analysis of the Establishment Clause. Of course, the First Amendment has been subjected to numerous disparate analyses over the years. But the contemporaneous writings of Jefferson and others suggest more antipathy than neutrality toward organized religion.

    I believe that the Constitutional Framers would have endorsed an interpretation that ensured the government would not favor one religion over another; but also any religion over non-religion. In Marsh v. Chambers, the Supreme Court ruled that non-sectarian prayers at legislative meetings were not categorically unconstitutional; but as a practical matter, it is exceedingly difficult to ensure that prayers remain within the strict confines of the limits of Marsh v. Chambers. This has already been the subject of litigation in other communities.

    I don’t care to denigrate the Mayor; but I also don’t care to have the city government endorse prayer over non-prayer. The writers of the Constitution placed much greater weight on rational analysis than on divine intervention. Therefore, we are bound to follow that secular principle.

    The idea of having an organized prayer before the gavel sounds signifying the start of the meeting has been tested already both practically and in the courts. The courts have made no distinction between the two.

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