Decorative Scales of Justice in the CourtroomWritten by Don Byrd

During last week’s Escambia County Commission meeting, one Commissioner may have learned what it is like to have someone of a different faith deliver a sectarian invocation at a government meeting. Commissioner Wilson Robertson was so disturbed by the pagan prayer recitation from David Suhor that he walked out of the meeting. Suhor indicated to a local news reporter that creating discomfort to teach a lesson of empathy was part of the point he was trying to make.

I appreciated the thoughtful questions of Gene Veith, writing at his blog Cranach, responding to this story. Read the whole thing, but here are a few:

Wouldn’t it be better not to have any prayers at all at these meetings, rather than force those in attendance to participate in such syncretism?

If you believe that only Christian prayers should be allowed in official meetings, how can you justify that in light of the Constitutional requirements of religious liberty?

If you believe that all prayers should be accepted, do we need to draw any lines?  Is what the commissioner did a good solution, whereby people who are offended by a particular prayer can just leave?

The answers to those first two questions are: 1) Yes, and 2) You can’t.

The next two questions are more difficult, particularly the last. Advocates often point to a rotating system of clergy and open invitation to all area religions as a solution to the constitutional concerns surrounding prayer at government meetings. It does sound nice. But is this a desirable solution, in which a particular faith opens a meeting and those who disagree walk out in silent protest?

Of course, a person is and must be free to leave during objectionable prayer, but is that the true vision of a rotating, diverse prayer system at government meetings? Shall it become yet another forum to invite dissent and disunity along religious lines within our communities? Is this the future of government prayer? Its logical outcome in a diverse society?