There are all kinds of places where Akron City Council members can pray before their public meetings. Houses of worship, for example, are plentiful. Or city lawmakers could pray in their homes or other venues before getting down to council business.
But unfortunately too many officeholders schedule invocations at governmental meetings, thus sending a message to the public of governmental endorsement of religion.
Recently, however, the Akron City Council decided to drop its long-time practice of reciting the Lord's prayer to open its public meetings. The action came after Americans United for Separation of Church and State warned city officials that sponsoring a Christian invocation runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution and sends a message to non-Christians that they are outsiders in their own community.
Americans United's letter cited federal court precedent that prohibits legislative bodies from advancing the prayers of "one particular religion." Since the U.S. Supreme Court's 1983 Marsh v. Chambers case, numerous other federal courts have invalidated sectarian prayer employed by government entities.
The Akron Beacon Journal reports that the Akron council has decided to stop reciting the Lord's Prayer before its public meetings. The council's president told the newspaper that "you can't say the same kind of Christian prayer every time" and that "we don't want to get sued."
The council "did the right thing," Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told The Plain Dealer, Cleveland's daily.
"The people who wanted to pray are going to do so before they go into council chambers, and that's fine," Lynn added.
Instead of a Christian prayer, Akron council members have commissioned a non-sectarian prayer that does not promote the tenets of any one faith. It would have been wiser to cease official prayers before their meetings altogether. But at least, it's a step in the right direction.
We hope other city councils in Ohio and across the nation will recognize diversity. For example, the city council in Euclid, Ohio, has riled some of its residents by repeatedly using Christian prayers to begin its meetings. Council members should discontinue the practice. They are there to conduct city business, not promote religion.