Written by Don Byrd

Yesterday’s News & Observer included a compelling piece about the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer, in legislatures that increasingly reflect the religious diversity of their constituents. With representatives of a growing number of faiths conducting the business of the people, what role exactly does an explicitly sectarian prayer play at the start of their work?

Here is an excerpt:

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Raleigh Democrat, is a practicing Hindu.

“I certainly hope that the Senate would be open to prayers from the non-Christian faiths given the fact there is now a member of the Senate who is of the Hindu faith and a member of the Senate who is of the Muslim faith,” Chaudhuri said.

Chaudhuri said he meditates during the prayers.

“The importance of prayer in the legislature can really be found in Rev. [Sarah] Woodard’s prayer on the opening day. She asked us senators to be humble, to find humanity and to find inspiration for others,” Chaudhuri said in a phone interview.

Woodard said inclusivity was at the forefront of her mind while drafting her prayer.

“There are agnostics and atheists and we don’t know that looking into the crowd. There were Muslims in the group. One of the men had a Quran on his desk,” Woodard said by phone. “Knowing that, even if I didn’t know that, I always write a prayer that is inclusive of everyone.”

There is certainly no constitutional requirement that a legislature open a session with prayer. But if they must, Rev. Woodard’s thoughtful approach sounds worth adopting. Read the whole thing.