Sunday, August 25, 2013

Time to stop council meeting prayers

By Jim Keyworth
Gazette Blog Editor

Last time I checked, the towns of Payson and Star Valley were still opening their town council meetings with a prayer by a local pastor.  Back when I was covering the Payson council, I asked an assistant town attorney about this practice.  He asked for anonymity, and then told me the practice is absolutely unconstitutional and if anybody ever called the town on it, they were in big trouble.

Since that assistant town attorney is still on the scene, I will respect his anonymity, but a letter in today's (Aug. 24) Arizona Republic reminded me that another twist of the knife from your friendly Gazette Blog Editor might be in order.

Here's the letter, written in response to an attempt by the Glendale Town Council to institute a prayer at the beginning of their council meetings:

Keep prayer, government apart

Apparently many municipalities and the the state legislature begin their meetings with a prayer.  Now Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers wants to join in ("Glendale council eyes prayers," Valley & State, Wednesday).

I guess none of these bodies believe in the Constitution because a main cornerstone of this document is separation of church and state.

Prayer should be found in churches and in the home of those who wish to do so, not in secular settings such as governmental meetings.

Al Stein

So many people invoke the Constitution to protect some of the craziest behavior, including shooting up Sandy Hook Elementary School and killing innocent children.  It's such a convenient tool, this Constitution of ours.  

But when a lawyer says something is unconstitutional, it is fair to assume he knows what he's talking about.  It is time for the towns of Payson and Star Valley to stop violating the Constitution by opening their town council meetings with a prayer.

It may not be as dishonest and immoral as providing a 49-year supply of potable water to a gated community's golf course in the middle of a prolonged drought, but it still ranks pretty high on the outrage meter.

If freedom of religion is a cornerstone of our democracy, it is just plain wrong to favor one religion over another in a government setting.

The excuse I usually hear when I bring this up is, "We're a Christian nation, and if people don't like it they don't have to participate."  But they do have to participate if they attend the meeting.  Inevitably everybody in the audience stands and bows their heads.

If you remain seated you are marked.  I have only seen one person remain seated during the opening prayer at a local council meeting.  That person is generally regarded as a whacko in the community.

That's unkind, unfair, and, most important, unAmerican.


Kelly Watts said...

Just plain BULL by the Idiots on the Loonie Left. If you don't like it TOUGH, we have rights too! Or did YOU forget that?

Jim Keyworth said...

Hey Kelly:

Thanks for the comment, but here's how I see it:

You are free to pray or not, and so am I. But neither of us is free to pray in the other's space.

People praying at a town council meeting are praying in my space.

If this is, indeed, a free country then you are free to pray and I am free to not listen to your prayers. That seems fair to me.

And if you're right and I'm wrong, there's going to be some extra room in heaven for you. Conversely, I doubt that god gives extra credit to those who pray in public.

Jim Keyworth

Anonymous said...

The prayers are done by Christians in a predominately Christian town. What about those that aren't Christians? Maybe the guy who didn't stand and bow his head wasn't. So, tell me why he's a wacko? We have 5 major religions in this world and others just like that pagan thing. All can be nasty about their beliefs. So lighten up!!! And do what the Constitution has set up for everybody. I think the people who set it up were religious, weren't they?