Localities nationwide offer people all kinds of places to pray, such as public parks, sidewalks and, of course, plenty of houses of worship.
So why do so many local governmental officials feel compelled to use their public meetings for prayer? Often these prayer setups are simply used to suck up to constituents; in other cases, it's a matter of officials using their public offices to do a little bit of proselytizing for their personal faiths.
As cities become more diverse, religious and otherwise, it is not surprising that opening public meetings with prayer is being challenged.
A situation over such a prayer policy is brewing in Pennsylvania, where the Coatesville City Council is scheming to protect a practice of opening its public meetings with Christian prayer.
In early February, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the council president, also a local minister, ordered all attendees to stand, hold hands and join in praying for the city manager, who had been arrested for drunken-driving. The newspaper also noted that prayer has been "a big part" of meetings. The seven-member council includes two ministers.
After a local secular organization complained about the prayer policy, a public meeting was held to address the issue.
The council unanimously supported a resolution that it described as avoiding running afoul of the First Amendment principle of church-state separation. The resolution, according to the Inquirer, states that prayer will not be on the council's official agenda and that no member, city staffer or citizen attending the meeting would have to participate in the prayer, which would be given by one of the council members. The resolution also asserts that the council members would offer the prayers as "private citizens."
Margaret Downey, head of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, found the resolution dubious, saying it accomplished nothing for "taxpaying and honorable citizens of Coatesville who are too frightened to personally voice their objection to the recitation of the Lord's Prayer at every City Council meeting."
Instead of showing respect for the Coatesville citizens, the city council members appear to have devised a scheme to keep on praying at public meetings.
The wise, thoughtful choice for the council members would be to leave religious matters for families, individuals and houses of worship.