Advertisement
 
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsClergy
(Page 2 of 2)

Religion, prayer and government

The Supreme Court will decide a California case involving prayers at City Council meetings in Lancaster.

May 02, 2010

How, then, is it possible to justify any prayer to a divine being at a government meeting? Though a nondenominational prayer might satisfy the vast majority of Americans, aren't atheists, agnostics, members of polytheistic religions and, for example, Buddhists — whose faith does not include a belief in a supernatural-related God — entitled to feel equally comfortable at these sessions?

Though the Constitution is clear on the subject of government taking steps that establish the dominance of one religion, it does not eliminate the possibility of any and all public religious activity. That's why the National Day of Prayer, though it might be off-putting to some Americans, falls into a different category than sectarian prayers at council meetings. No public money is spent to advance one religion over another; the day doesn't interfere with anyone's efforts to be involved in government. But there is no getting around the fact that what the courts call nonsectarian prayer is actually polysectarian monotheistic prayer. To someone who isn't from one of those faiths — primarily Christianity, Judaism and Islam — this sure looks like establishment of a particular religious belief.

In a country where people of so many religious beliefs live shoulder to shoulder, there is going to be a level of discomfort for everyone. Just as atheists might feel injured by any mention of God at city council meetings, some Christians — Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, for example, who supported the measure on sectarian prayer — will feel that government is trying to diminish their religion if a pastor cannot mention Jesus in a public prayer.

Parris says that the ruckus in Lancaster has prompted him and other city leaders to begin a series of discussions geared toward promoting greater intercultural understanding. Good for him. While he's at it, we hope he comes to realize that although the Constitution guarantees him the right to pray as he wishes as a private citizen, it also guarantees others the right to perceive that their government isn't taking sides in the religion wars.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|