Prayer in the High Point City Council

By Anthony | November 29th, 2006 | 10:45 pm

This past week the High Point City Council got a bit of a reprimand due to the content of their pre-session invocations:

High Point City Attorney Fred Baggett has issued a stern warning to the High Point Council about the content of their invocations.

Baggett said he received a phone call from the ACLU in Raleigh, which received a complaint from someone in attendance at a High Point council meeting. The complaint alleges that during an invocation, one council member used the word “Jesus.”

Baggett said city policy requires generic terms for God and also states that an invocation can’t reflect a specific faith’s belief.

I think their policy of non-sectarianism makes sense. The Council is a government entity, and opening it with a sectarian prayer is a de facto endorsement of a specific religion. Of course, that’s not acceptable to some:

“Don’t ask me to pray again,” Councilman Latimer Alexander directed at Mayor Becky Smothers. “When I am asked to pray, I will pray to the Father I know, believe in and worship in my faith.”

Councilman Mike Pugh echoed Alexander’s comments and requested he not be asked to give the prayer either.

Are Alexander and Pugh worried that God won’t know He’s being addressed if they call Him “God”? The founding fathers often used very generic, all-encompassing terms for God – “Nature’s God”, “Creator” and “Divine Providence” to quote a few from the Declaration of Independence. It’s strange that such grand, yet non-sectarian titles are fine for the architects of our government, but not good enough for the High Point City Council.

33 Responses to “Prayer in the High Point City Council”

  1. meblogin Says:

    Did Alexander and Pugh demand/command that others believe as they do?
    Our President expresses his religious beliefs routinely and legally.

    The intent of the founding fathers was to make sure freedom to believe exists and that another Salem does not happen.

    Thanks and great post.

  2. Joel Gillespie Says:

    The policy of the High Point City Council is a defacto estabuishment of a “non sectarian religion” which really, if you take a broader view, is really not all that non sectarian, and should be considered just as offensive as the establishment of any other kind of religion for those easily offended by these things. I as a Christian would and will not allow the State to tell me how to pray. The State can stick it up its constitutional rear end as far as I am concerned. Hurrah to Alexander and Pugh. And I have no intent to use the deist drivel of many of our Founding Fathers as an example for my religious speech, especially my prayers. I would rather the Council just not pray at all than be forced to pray such pointless generic prayers to whomever or whatever. I mean, why leave out the various goddesses, or the devil, or why take a western God-as-person approach at all? Why not begin with mind emptying meditiation? You could use mantras and chants, maybe throw in some LSD or at least some weed? I mean, if it is for religious purposes seems it should be legal for that. Might get more creative decisions that way too. Why not sacrifice chickens? Or broccoli spears?

    Now if I am at an extended family gathering, or at a local civic function, and am asked, I may pray generically out of sensitivity and love, but I won’t be forced to, no way Jose.

  3. Brenda Bowers Says:

    Applaud ! Applaud! Applaud! Well said Joel.. This was certainly the time to take out the whip. Brenda

  4. PotatoStew Says:

    “Now if I am at an extended family gathering, or at a local civic function, and am asked, I may pray generically out of sensitivity and love, but I won’t be forced to, no way Jose”

    That’s kind of my point though, Joel. Alexander and Pugh are not being “forced” to do anything – they obviously have the option of not leading the prayer, and have availed themselves of it. But as civic leaders, is it really so out of line for them to express some of the “sensitivity” you speak of when acting in an official capacity, as representatives of a diverse community?

    You obviously grasp the idea that there are certain situations where it would be more considerate to offer a more generic prayer. I don’t see why the two council members can’t bring themselves to do so. But of course, as we both recognize, that is their right.

  5. Joel Gillespie Says:

    PotatoStew,

    The difference for me would be that in the case of the High Point City Council I would required to do so, that is, I mean, if I were to pray at all, I would be required to offer a prayer that is not true to me, a particular kind of State mandated prayer. What’s next, are they goign to print a brochure as to what specific kinds of prayers are allowed? Such a prayer would not thereby be an act of free love and sensitivity but of coercion. It would be the State mandating religious expression to me. It is the State interfering with the free expression of my religion. That gets by back up. Makes me want to get on a boat to sail to new world. Oh, can’t do that – they’re all taken up. Guess they were all then too! I’d rather just be quiet than be coerced in this way. In the family gathering I am not so coerced. So I see this as despotic. And this is what the ACL does not or is not willing to see, that they are coercing a whole large segment of the population one way in order to protect a small segment the other way. Not that I see a way around it frankly. It’s the mess we’re in. I just wish they would call a spade a spade. Despotism of the left, despotism of the right, I don’t like either kind.

  6. PotatoStew Says:

    I understand what you’re saying, to a point, but I don’t see it as coersion – just as setting acceptable limits to what a government agent (and that’s an important point – that this is a government entity) can do in an official capacity. A fine line, perhaps, but I see a distinction nonetheless.

    Let me ask you this: Do you think the Council *should* be allowed to open its session with a prayer specifically in Jesus’ name? If so, what about opening a session with a prayer to Allah? Or Satan? Should those prayers be allowed, if a council member was a member of a religion that prayed to those entities, and he wanted to give the opening prayer?

  7. Joe Killian Says:

    I suppose it would be completely out of line to ask whether a prayer to Thor or Apollo would be inappropriate…

  8. meblogin Says:

    In our county’s early history the church/state leaders defined what one would believe if you chose to live in their area (state). Please recall the church of England and the problems of same. I am not a history expert…if I am wrong then please educate in a respectful manner.

    The intent of our constitution is that there be a separation of church and state and therefore freedom to believe as one desires. It was not the intent to prohibit a polictical leader from expressing their individual belief. The leader could not demand his belief to be followed by all.

    The ACLU can kiss off on this topic as far as I am concerned as they are threatening to define how we pray and therefore what we believe.

    My guess is that if someone who worships the devil, Apollo or Mickey Mouse can get elected…then they should pray as they see fit if invited or their invitation is accepted.

    Joel, Thank you for a great contribution.

    PotatoStew—-It is so great to see a thread not degrade itself into trash.
    (fingers crossed that it stays upbeat and professional)

  9. PotatoStew Says:

    Meb,

    “they are threatening to define how we pray and therefore what we believe.”

    The distinction that I see is the actual situation isn’t as sweeping as that statement makes it sound. They aren’t threatening to define how “we” pray. It’s targeted to a specific action by a specific group of people (public officials) performed while in a specific role. The whole point of our Constitution is to put limits on what our government can do, so this seems like fair game, in my opinion.

    I admit, that a prayer to Jesus in a City Council session isn’t a particularly egregious violation of the first amendment, but I do feel that it’s a de facto endorsement of a specific religion, and therefore is a violation. Again, somewhat borderline, but in my opinion it is across the line.

    “My guess is that if someone who worships the devil, Apollo or Mickey Mouse can get elected…then they should pray as they see fit if invited or their invitation is accepted.”

    At least you are being consistent – in theory anyway, since it’s doubtful that someone who worshipped like that would ever get elected around here – so I certainly give you credit for that.

  10. Brenda Bowers Says:

    I have always had a lot of trouble with our current laws that allows the tiniest minority the right to force the vast majority into changing their views/actions. This is just plain wrong in a democracy as envisioned by our Founding Fathers and the Constitution they created. I simply do not understand how a law demanding that a Nativity can not be placed in a public park is any different from a law demanding that a Nativity be placed in a public park. Both laws would be against the law to keep separate the affairs of church and state. The state is stepping into the affairs of religion with either law. Can anyone explain to me how one action is therefore acceptible as constitutionally lawful and the other is not?

  11. Roch101 Says:

    Whether prayers to Jesus, bong hits or chicken sacrifices, I agree with Joel, whatever inspiration elected officials need to perform their duties it should not be an official part of their public meetings.

  12. meblogin Says:

    Here are some prayers that were said before congress—

    http://www.american.edu/heintze/Prayers.htm

    1861 (July 4), Senate Prayer

    The following prayer was offered by Rev. Byron Sunderland, D.D.

    snip—”Thy Church and Kingdom may flourish in a larger peace and prosperity, for Thy Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. (Source: Congressional Globe, 37th Congress, first session, new series, 1, 4 July 1861.)”

    I guess the High Point attorney and ACLU would disagree… :)

  13. Kirk D. Says:

    Brenda, its different because my tax money helps support that park. Am I Christian? I might not be and therefore don’t want my money going to support a religion that I do not subscribe to.

    The Consitution is designed to *protect* the miniority, not destroy and overrule it. The entire concept of the Consitution is to protect its people from its government. If these councilmen insist on praying to Jesus at the start of each session, then I suggest they do so in silence since God hears all.

  14. PotatoStew Says:

    Brenda, two points:

    1. In this case at least, the law isn’t forcing “the vast majority” to do anything, unless the vast majority of us are public officials who pray in an official capacity. As I said, this is rather narrow and specific, and really doesn’t affect anything approaching a majority.

    2. Your statement about the nativity reflects a common misconception. In such cases, the ACLU usually isn’t arguing that the nativity should be removed from the public park, rather they almost always are simply arguing that if a nativity can be placed there, then any other religion that wants to set up a display should be allowed to do so as well.

    A case like this recently occurred – I believe it was in Florida – where a city allowed only Christian displays on a piece of public property. The ACLU sued not to have those displays removed, but to get the city to allow equal access to other religions. The city’s response was to eliminate all displays, rather than allow equal access.

  15. Brenda Bowers Says:

    Kirk D., My money also goes to support that public park and I want a Nativity set up and shining during the Christ’s Mass season. Whose tax money carries the most weight? If the Constitution was designed to “protect” the minority then what, if any, protections are offered the majority? It seems to me that the wishes of the majority have been consistently “overruled and destroyed ” by the wants of the minority during the past forty years. I might add that any study of the decline of Cultural Morality coincides with the advent of minority rule. By decline in Cultural Morality I mean: increased behavioral problem in schools, increased out of wedlock birth rate, sexual activity beginning at younger and younger ages among both males and females, explosion of prison population in proportion to population growth, higher use of illegal drugs, exploding use of legal mind altering drugs for both adults and children (this is particularly dire in the case of children’s usage), decrease in marriages/commitment/acceptance of legal and moral responsibility, increase in tort cases overwhelming our court system (refusing personal responsibility for actions), I sure you can add to this list yourself. I repeat: It seems to me that the wishes of the majority have been consistently “overruled and destroyed ” by the wants of the minority during the past forty years. I might add that any study of the decline of Cultural Morality coincides with the advent of minority rule. You may counter that Cultrual Morality has no place in this discussion. I would disagree and point out that Cultural Morality is the basis for all laws and the cohesive that forms societies. Morality=laws=societies-laws=chaos!

  16. Brenda Bowers Says:

    Anthony, I am sorry to have strayed away from the particular incident you submit for discussion, but this incident would not be an issue, in fact would not have occurred if not for the underlying moral usurpation of the majority views and beliefs by those of the minority.

  17. Roch101 Says:

    For those who want the government to accomodate religion in its business:

    Would your position remain the same if a Muslim city council person opened council meetings with a prayer to Allah, if Wiccan pentagrams were placed on the town hall lawn, if a soccer coach wanted to lead his high school team in a pre-game prayer to Vishnu? Honestly now.

  18. Kirk D. Says:

    Brenda, please don’t lecture me about morality. Your idea of morality is just that, yours.

    I disagree with your notion that the majority has been on the losing side of late. It is the “minority” of the common man that has been losing. To wit:

    War protesters are now forced to stay in “free speech zones” when the president comes calling.

    TV networks are afraid to run documentaries of 9/11 because of the language used by some of the fire fighters on that day. They might be fined thousands of dollars so they dare not run it.

    The right decries the first Muslim official elected to congress and says he must prove he’s not “an enemy” and cannot be sworn in on the Koran.

    The “majority” says that gay and lesbian couples don’t have the same rights as the rest of us under the law. Same argument that was used to keep interracial couples from getting married in the first half of this century. The majority was wrong then too.

    I can go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

  19. Jon Lowder Says:

    Brenda, there are ample instances in our history of the majority showing a strong lack of morality. Just because the majority favor something doesn’t make it moral. I could invoke slavery or segregation but that’s too obvious. How about the death penalty? How is it considered moral in our traditional Judeo-Christian society? How is it supported by a Christian majority that is taught love and forgiveness for even the worst sinners?

    As far as the City Council and whether/how they pray, personally I don’t see a need for any government forum to start with a prayer of any kind. To me it is city business, not city worship. I’ve never been in a business meeting that started with a prayer and I don’t see the need for it at a city business meeting.

  20. Ed Cone Says:

    US Senate guide to the Constitution: “For over two centuries the Constitution has remained in force because its framers successfully separated and balanced governmental powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights.”

    As the Preamble to the Bill of Rights puts it, the amendments were added to the Constitution “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers.” That is to say, to constrain the government put in place by a majority.

    See also Federalist #10, by James Madison, regarding checks on the “schemes of oppression” by a majority; In the words of Stanford professor Jack Rakove, “James Madison went to the Federal Convention of 1787 convinced that it faced no greater challenge than finding some means of checking ‘the aggressions of interested majorities on the rights of minorities and individuals.’”

  21. Joel Gillespie Says:

    PototoStew,

    I do see it as coercion. It is saying, OK, we want someone to pray, and ask soemone to pray, but if someone does pray, whoever that someone is, here is the officially publicly sanctioned prayer he or she must pray. That is coerced religious speech.

    I think our grand secular experiment is leading us to this mess, which I think is a mess. That the Islamists won’t have it is a credit to their good sense. As to how to get them to not having it and living with others I still can’t figure out, but we’ll see. That’s the grand experiment phase two maybe.

    Western culture post enlightenment has been trying to push religion into the private only sphere in a multitude of ways. But this too is coercive. This is an establishment of religion as a purely private reality. Well, who said? Who defined it that way? That the State or the Constitution has relegated religion to the private sphere only is, in its on way, a kind or a type of establishment of religion, just a different kind of establishment of religion than we are used to thinking about. But given Roch’s good questions, I’d rather deal with a privatized religion that expose my children or those present at a city meeting to Hindu chants or slaughtered chickens or a Wiccan priest or whatever. And it will be a cold day in hell before I pray according to the script the government gives to me.

  22. Brenda Bowers Says:

    Gentleman, My answers to your concerns got entirely too wordy so I have posted it on my site. If you care to come by you are most welcome. If you care to comment I would be happy to read your views and continue the discussion.

    I apologize again Anthony for instigating this discussion away from your original post. This was not my intention. Sincerely, Brenda

  23. Kirk D. Says:

    Brenda, could you post the URL link to your site? I’d be interested to read your reply. Thanks so much.

  24. PotatoStew Says:

    No need to apologize Brenda – I think most of what you said is related closely enough to the original topic.

    As for your (and Joel’s?) concerns about secularization resulting in a less moral society, there is evidence that the correlation actually may go in the opposite direction – societies with a more secular orientation often exhibit lower rates of things like homicide, suicide, STDs, etc. That’s not at all to say that there is any causation, but it does argue against secularism automatically being “bad” for a society.

    The more I think about it, especially considering some of what Joel and Jon said, the more it seems that the best course of action is to not have public officials praying *in an offical capacity*. As Jon said, it’s business, not a worship service. It seems to cause more problems and hard feelings than anything else.

  25. meblogin Says:

    My problem is I very much want our leaders praying…sigh…they certainly need the help from somewhere. (tiny smile of agreement maybe…)

    God helps with decisions. Ask for help and then listen for a couple of days…might just surprise you. It often does me.

  26. PotatoStew Says:

    Meb, any leader inclined to pray will already be praying – either silently while at work, and/or in private (either silently or aloud, whatever his preference). No one can or should try to stop that. As Kirk said, God hears all. One does not need to pray aloud publicly in a work setting to receive his help.

  27. Jeffrey Sykes Says:

    Every council/commission I have covered as a journalist in NC and Va. has begun the meeting with prayer and often the preacher would pray in Jesus name.

    Good luck eradicating that practice across the breadth of small town America.

  28. meblogin Says:

    I have to admit that what you and Kirk say makes sense and I feel myself moderating a little though I am very comfortable with prayer in public by our leaders.

  29. PotatoStew Says:

    I’m sure you are comfortable with it, but that’s where the previously mentioned examples are instructive – would you still be comfortable with it if city officials prayed to Allah, or Thor, or L.Ron Hubbard at the beginning of their meetings? If not, why not, and does it matter that non-Christians (equally U.S. citizens) might be similarly uncomfortable with the current situation?

    Jeffery – No doubt you are right on both points, that the practice is widespread and that it would be difficult to eliminate.

  30. meblogin Says:

    PotatoStew,

    I guess the answer is that I am comfortable having a politician sworn in using the quran if that is what he believes.

    My next thought is that my personal basis for decision making starts from what I believe which is Christianity. Therefore my decisions tend to begin with religion first, state second…ACLU (for the most part…way down the list) In no way am I saying that others should believe the same way…just me.

    For me…I just lose interest in the conversation with all the what ifs…such as what would the atheist or satanist desire to place his hand on for being sworn in.

    Fantastic post and facilitation…thank you.

  31. Penguin Says:

    Sorry about being a week late on this.

    meb, I wonder how you would feel about a public official that claimed what you just claimed:

    “my decisions tend to begin with religion first, state second”

    Would this be acceptable as a public official?

    OK, now imagine they are Sunni Muslims, or even Catholics (ala JFK) claiming that they think of their religion first and the state second? JFK was accused of potentially answering to the Pope about issues, rather than the American people.

    The ACLU sucks for most people until their rights are impinged upon. Just wait until they agree with you. You’ll be happy they did.

  32. meblogin Says:

    My guess is that many leaders use prayer for help with decision making.

    Therefore, many already begin with religion first.

  33. Plead the First » Blog Archive » Pagan Flyer Says:

    [...] I’m a little late on this, but wanted to mention it anyway. We’ve had conversations about the establishment clause before. When someone argues in favor of government officials offering sectarian prayers, or allowing religious displays of one faith to the exclusion of others, I often ask a question like “Would you feel the same if the prayers (or display) were offered to Allah, or Satan, or L. Ron Hubbard?” [...]