In response to a News/Opinion piece entitled ‘Court: Commissioners’ Prayer Practice Violated Constitution’. Published by Midlothian Mirror dated July 20, 2017.
I do agree with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court in ruling that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ prayer practice goes beyond what the courts have held in the past. While I think the guiding word
should be ‘neutrality’, if that is not possible then certainly ‘balance’.
To consistently have one flavor of religion presented, showing little regard for the multitude of differing beliefs on religion, is not a recipe for fairness. I suspect it was not what the previous court cases had in mind when they ruled in favor of government led prayer. Those with differing beliefs could easily be made to feel like outsiders. Some may feel it in their best interest to guard such differences should any business before the court be jeopardized by having a worldview that is not shared by the court. Especially, as noted in the article, some prayer implying a particular religious view was the only way, and others may even be inferior. It is imperative that the Commissioners Court put forth an atmosphere where all those having business before them feel they get fair treatment. With all due respect to the dissenting Justices, the case was not about government prayer per se. It was about the coercive and one-sided way in which the prayer was presented. One has to realize that a good percentage of those in attendance do not share common ideas with regard to how the world came about, and unless the court wants to address the issue specifically, this is not the place to deal with it. Those holding no religious affiliation is the fastest growing segment of the population.
I completely disagree with Judge Niemeyer that the decision “… actively undermines the appropriate role of prayer in American life.” I think it upholds the role of prayer, it keeps it personal and reminds our government that it is personal. Religious prayer may have been an important part of the fabric of our nation and civil life 50 years ago when it appeared to be a unified public viewpoint, but since then, thankfully, we have grown to realize the spiritual world is bigger and there are many belief systems in this country.
The statement by the attorneys for the defense brought the point home. “The commissioners don’t force anyone to participate, noting that people could leave the room or stay seated during the prayer.” That’s really going to make them feel a part of the community and give them the confidence that they will be treated fairly in any business brought before the court. Just exactly what the prosecution was alleging.
Once again, neutrality should be the aim. If that is not possible without consistently alienating a percentage of the population, which I don’t think it can, then we should move to abandon the practice altogether. There is no reason for prayer at these meetings. These are legal proceedings. If an elected official wants to pray before the meeting, they are free to do so. But when they put on the government service hat, they represent all residents of the jurisdiction equally. I am in no way trying to suppress any individuals’ right to express themselves, but this Constitutional interpretation has been around a long time. If they can’t show a little more respect for the religious diversity of those they serve, perhaps another line of employment is in order. The only reason to not pursue neutrality is if one is trying to, either get people to believe the same way, or trying to prove the strength of a particular belief system. Neither has a place in this situation.
On a related note, I noticed Ellis County is ready to buy new vehicles. I would ask that they refrain from putting ‘In God We Trust’ (or any other religious based motto) on these vehicles. I realize it is the national motto and while it is no surprise that our national leadership can’t seem to honor the Constitution, I have high hopes for local leadership. It is unconstitutional, divisive, and IMO useless. It does not recognize the diversity of our county. It does not recognize that those using those vehicles may not have a need for such supernatural assistance, and may even be quite insulted by it. Our County officials should rely on laws, proper equipment, training, and the dedicated men and women they serve and serve with to do their job. How about E pluribus unum ( Out of Many, One ), that has a nice ring to it. What about just PEACE. Or perhaps ‘In Reason We Trust’.