Frederick County, Maryland. Lancaster City, California. Chesterfield County, Virginia. Lodi, California. Houston, Texas.
All of the above-mentioned municipalities have something in common: they have all struggled with the issue of prayer at formal government meetings (City Council, County Board of Supervisors, etc). There have been lawsuits and nonbinding resolutions and voter initiatives in support, and above all, much semantic tap-dancing around the core issue of "We want to establish overtly-Christian prayer as the norm but we don't want to be noticed as doing so outright." Chesterfield came up with the so-called "Wiccan-proof invocation policy", which specifies that prayers must be nonsectarian, but those who offer prayers at meetings "must be ordained and affiliated with a monotheistic religion with an established congregation in Frederick County." There have been attempts at compromise, at "allowing" those of non-Christian faith to offer the opening prayers occasionally.
I have to wonder how much time, money, and energy is being spent on this issue in municipalities across the country, between litigation, drafting new policies, debating the policies, putting voter initiatives on the ballot, etc.
And having wondered that, I have to ask, am I the only person to have hit upon the obvious solution in my mental meanderings? Cause here's what I'd recommend...wait for it...
STOP FUCKING HAVING INVOCATIONS AND PRAYERS AT OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONS.
There. Was that so damn hard? Take a moment of silence in your office before the meeting, or at your seat in the meeting room, and pray for yourself if you so choose. No one can or will stop you in such a personal matter. But why, for the love of all that is, why is it so vital that it be done out loud in a group in front of everyone? For that matter, I'm pretty sure Jesus would have been less than pleased about this whole public-group-prayer-in-government phenomenon - Matthew 6:5-7, anyone*?
If you feel the need to be brought together and dedicated to your task together - for I can actually see the value in redeclaring one's dedication and purpose, to focus the group as a whole before undertaking serious communal tasks - then have a statement of purpose read or spoken before each meeting. Something that reminds the members of the ruling body why they are there, for whom they do their work, etc. Like, "As we begin this meeting, let us all be reminded of what we stand for and why we are here: to do the best we can for those people who have placed their trust in us. To work for the greatest good for the greatest number of our people. Let us keep this in mind as we go about our business." Simple, secular, nothing for anyone to be excluded by or harmed by.
I genuinely don't understand why the whole idea of pre-meeting prayer is so important. Why people cling to it so desperately. Why it's absolutely scandalous to suggest just NOT DOING IT ANYMORE, why people instead prefer to twist the rules into pretzels to try to allow it to continue without being open to lawsuits about it. Pre-meeting prayers serve no purpose that I can see, offer no concrete benefit that would make them worth fighting for like this.
Just LET IT GO already, and go about the business of governing, without wasting taxpayer time or money defending a practice that is both superfluous and oppressive.
*5“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.