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Poll: Public meetings without prayer

June 20, 2010 Politics/Policy, Religion, Sunday Poll 31 Comments

The poll this week is about an issue that often ends up in court — the role of prayer during public meetings.  Many public bodies do not begin their meetings with a prayer, but others do. One that does is the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Here is their outline for each meeting:

Rule 13 Regular Order of Business
The Order of Business and Procedure shall be as follows:

1. Roll Call.

2. Suggested Prayer.

“Almighty God, source of all authority, we humbly ask guidance in our deliberations and wisdom in our conclusions. Amen.”

3. Announcement of any Special Order of the Day.

4. Introduction of Honored Guests.

5. Approval of minutes of previous meetings.

6. Report of City Officials.

7. Petitions and Communications. (Source)

Increasingly public bodies that include prayer as part of their agenda are being challenged in court:

Federal District Court Judge James A. Beaty this morning ruled that Forsyth County is violating the U.S. Constitution by allowing prayers with sectarian references before meetings of the county board of commissioners.

Beaty ordered the county to stop allowing prayers under its current policy, which had come under fire from those who said that the county was promoting Christianity because most of the prayers have made reference to Jesus.

Beaty gave the county several options in his order. He said that the county could choose to open meetings without a prayer, or could require that prayers contain no sectarian references.

Mike Johnson, the attorney representing the county, told commissioners this morning that he hopes they will appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. That court traditionally also has ruled against sectarian prayer at public meetings.

Today’s ruling by Beaty confirms what a magistrate recommended in November. The lawsuit was filed in March 2007 by several county residents, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union. They asked that the commission only allow non-sectarian prayer at meetings; in those, references to God are allowed, but to specific deities such as Jesus Christ or Buddha are not.

The lawsuit prompted other counties to study their policies on invocations before public meetings. Several, such as Yadkin County, changed their policies to eliminate sectarian prayer. Others, such as the Winston-Salem City Council, have held off, saying they would wait to see the outcome of the Forsyth County case.  (Source)

One example is the Texas State Board of Education:


Friday the prayer at the start of the Board of Aldermen mentioned God four times.The poll this week asks how you feel about prayer and public meetings. The poll is on the right hand side of the site.  The final results will be posted Wednesday June 30, 2010.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "31 comments" on this Article:

  1. KenC says:

    The City needs all the help it can get.

    • They've started the meetings with a prayer for decades, we should try something new.

      • GregG says:

        This is a topic that has many right answers and no wrong ones. Our forefathers did a fantastic job of writing a Constitution for all and still recognizing the role of religion in our heritage with the references to God in our monetary system, etc.

        Of course this topic brings out strong feelings for all, so at the end of the day I think balance is respectful. You go to non sectarian prayer and remove the reference to God since that word relates more toward the Christian God than the general reference.

        Again, no one right answer here, but we all need to be willing to work together on this topic.

        • David says:

          Greg, your civil attitude and open mindedness is an example to be modeled after. Regardless of the constitutionality of the praying, I just kind of find it to be a little out of line within the context of what these officials are doing. I'm not claiming this upon any legal grounds per say, as much as it's just a little weird for me conceptually to watch them do their jobs as elected officials to serve and represent their constituents/district by starting their meetings of with – what I assume to be – christian prayers. There are presumably non-christians that these officials are representing, and this just seems a little unfair to me

      • I Have The Answer says:

        And we've seen how well prayer works. I guess the invisible man in the sky doesn't like St. Louis very much.

  2. Aron says:

    This is the kind of issue that only distracts from the important things and only serves to advance someone's personal agenda. Total waste of space to even discuss.

    • Mark says:

      Agreed. I think this is off topic.

      It all comes down to your own _personal_ interpretation of the First Amendment. Strangely, self-identified “liberals” tend to error on the side of more restriction of personal liberty here, with the justification that religiousness infringes on those who have a secular worldview. “Conservatives” tend to think that speaking about religion in public spaces is a provision of the First Amendment.

      I'm not sure there's much to say other than that, as everyone who has a pulse probably already knows this.

      • I'll fight for your right to believe whatever you want but when I attend the meetings of government bodies a prayer has no business being part of the official meeting. This blog addresses public policy and how government bodies conduct their business is central to the discussion.

        • Ryan S. says:

          In addition to your point, in my opinion, I'd rather our officials rely on hard and thought out problem solving than divine intervention 😉

  3. Chris says:

    After Christianity. atheism is one of the largest belief systems in America.

  4. Jason says:

    I recall the prayer being said at my last visit to the board of ald., but I don't recall the pledge of allegiance being said. I don't see it on the agenda above, either. Why would any government body say a prayer before a meeting but not the pledge of allegiance? It seems kind of backward to me. I'd personally feel a lot more comfortable at meetings if I heard the pledge replace prayer. I also can't imagine every council member is Christian. What do the ones who are not Christian do during the prayer?

    • Alex says:

      They probably feel uncomfortable and as like someone else's belief system is being forced on them, while simultaneously knowing that if they say anything, they'll be made even more into an out-group, so they'll say the words too, or pretend to, even though they know it's wrong, and hope someone doesn't ask them too much along the lines of “but aren't you…” because they're trying to blend in and get work done. It's what I always had to do growing up, when trying to fit in with communities that aren't yet diverse.

      • Aron says:

        Funny how the more “diverse” a community is the more individuals are expected to mute their personal beliefs. How many who battle in the name of diversity really wish to silence any views but their own?

        • When a government body convenes to conduct official state business I certainly expect each member to check their religion at the door. Conduct the business they came their for and after that business is complete for that meeting they can do as they please on their time.

          • Chris says:

            Freedom of religion is a sham in America. Freedom of the majority to practice their religion is the only thing that exists.

          • JZ71 says:

            I don't expect our politicians “to check their religion at the door”, espercially if their religion is integral to the values they hold and we elected them for. But I do draw the line when religion moves beyond core beliefs to imposing, consciously or unconsciously, one's beliefs on others. Most religions believe that they worship the one true god and that their beliefs are the only truly correct ones. This is where the real friction starts, whether it's this example, al quaida vs. America, Isreal vs. Gaza, Christian vs. Jew or Catholic vs. Mormon. I don't care how good your god is or how ardently you want to share your beliefs – if I want to find out, I'll ask! Presuming that I or others share your beliefs, when we don't, just serves to marginalize our own beliefs.

            We are a nation of many religions, and while Christianity is the dominant one nationally, with Catholicism playing a big role locally, our government is supposed to serve ALL its citizens, not just the majority. If anything, government should be bending over to be as inclusive, not exclusive, as possible. And, unfortunately, no matter how benign a prayer may seem, it will usually be viewed as being exclusionary by many “non-believers” . . .

          • Agreed, nobody can check that which is part of who they are but to have prayer be part of the formal agenda is too much. If an alderman wants to pray before the meeting starts they are free to do so. There is nothing gained by forcing it on everyone present or watching on TV.

        • Adam says:

          yeah, try going to a meeting of the board of aldermen and asking them to recite jewish, islamic, hindu, buddhist, etc etc prayers in addition to the christian one. it's funny how all those groups are expected to mute their personal beliefs and participate in christian prayer in a country in which church and state are supposedly separated.

          • Greg says:

            We already squelch enough opposing views in our “free” country and label the views of those that we don't like as extremist, wacko, etc.. I think a lot of people wonder where it ends. When do you stop saying “Sally in the corner of the room doesn't like your prayer, so now you can't do it” because that's the stepping tone for ” Sally in the corner of the room has a view that we don't like, so she can't speak.” That already happens far too much. Like I said above, there is no right or wrong here. Just opinions.

            Sadly, people are more passionate about their politics than their own personal beliefs these days, with the idea that somehow government (god) will solve their problems. So maybe that prayer to god is just a prayer to our government? *heavy use of sarcasm there*

          • I'm all for everyone having the right to pray if they so choose. My objection is for the government body to mandate a prayer as part of their business.

          • mac says:

            If you believe in God, I've got a bridge for sale. Heck, I even have a Santa Claus outfit. Rudolph included. How is it, that otherwise seemingly intelligent people believe in the talking snake theory? Sure, sure there is a cloud guy who listens to 6 billion people murmuring their thoughts (all at once) out loud and will actively choose which ones of those he'll respond to. People, catch a clue. This crap doesnt belong in government meetings anymore than discussions about Paris Hilton and her daily trips to Vegas. Believe what you want, sure. But man, don't tell me cause I'll think you are a….well, not so bright person. BTW, the Santa Claus outfit is going for $59.99, size xl.

          • Adam says:

            Greg, there is a very obvious distinction between Sally in the corner praying at the start of a meeting and Sally integrating said prayer into the meeting's agenda so that it becomes official government business. Hell, replace the prayer with a few moments of silence so that each person in attendance can ask their respective god(s) for guidance or strength or whatever, or read a book, or take a nap. but it is not our government's place to endorse one religion or one type of prayer over others. frankly, i'm tired of people trying to brand this very simple and reasonable concept as persecution. nobody is attempting to stop you (not you specifically, greg, but the royal you) from praying. Hopefully, Sally has something other than prayer to contribute at a political meeting. if she wants to lead others in prayer, she can go to church after the meeting or start a prayer group.

          • Greg says:

            I don't disagree with a moment of silence or a non sectarian prayer. My point is that you can't ALWAYS cater to every persons unique views. At a given time, someone will say that the moment of silence makes them feel awkward. Then what?

            It's one thing to acknowledge someones concerns, but we don't always have to cater to the least common denominator. Sometimes, Sally is just a sh*t disturber and her only goal is to be a pain in the butt and distract the meeting, and when you acquiesce to her once, now you never get rid of her. Government has a way of attracting these type of people and their attention whoring ways so they spend more time dealing with these sideshows and less time dealing with the major issues of the day.

            There is a major difference between citizens raising issues that have a negative effect on the community and the ones that are their for their own personal pulpit at the expense of the community.

            Just my opinion, I do understand that it's not shared by everyone.

          • No prayer = no distractions.

          • Greg says:

            Not as Simple as that. Sorry.

  5. JZ71 says:

    And I guess you can take this either way . . . In Shrewbury, the designated private trash collection company is Christian Disposal (http://christiandisposal.com/). You can either be offended that you have to use an apparently religiously-oriented company or you can chuckle at the apparent absurdity of its name . . .

  6. Etg1701 says:

    Whoa, I knew St Louis was incredibly conservative, but I had no idea the board began meetings with prayer. I think someone ought to challenge this.

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