Jesus Prayers in City Council Meetings?

Atheist v. religionist. The old (inconclusive) back-and-forth. I hope the Supreme Court sides with the atheists on this one. And as an agnostic, if these sorts of prayers get upheld, I want my turn on the invocation list. If someone from the faith community gets three minutes, I want three minutes. Three minutes for the doubting community. I’ll speak to Voltaire; invoke and quote him as an authority for the edification of the city council; wear a Pastafarian hat; dress in the most outlandish mock religious garb I can dream up. “Ladies and gentlemen of the city council, for your three-minutes of edification, I’d like to remind you of the words of the author of Candide who wrote that ‘This is the best of all possible worlds!’ I’d like to add that this city is, without doubt, the best of all cities, and you are, without doubt, the best of all city councils! And our mayor–he’s the best of all mayors!” I’ll make stuff up. Make my turn at the mike into performance art. Gesture weirdly. Follow my conscience. Blow a kazoo. But I won’t pray.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to Jesus Prayers in City Council Meetings?

  1. Longtooth says:


    I cringe at the chronic disingenuousness of those who advocate for prayer in government meetings. I cringe at President Obama’s support of those jerks and his support of other significant entanglements of government with religion. Obama has been a remarkable disappointment in that regard. It’s entirely inconsistent with his claimed advocacy during his first election campaign. But that’s another story.

    Anyway, your post is timely. Oral arguments at the Supreme Court for the Greece NY prayer case are scheduled for tomorrow (Nov 6th), with a ruling expected in June 2014.

    I’m tempted to go into brutal detail about the above mentioned acts of disingenuousness. On top of it though, where does that preacher boy in the video get off telling us that the First Amendment’s establishment clause was intended only to prevent the establishment of a state church? Well, I know where. It’s a well worn fallacious argument among the Christian religion mongers. If James Madison and company had intended the establishment clause to be so narrowly interpreted, they would have used terminology like “no law respecting the establishment of a state church”. They didn’t. The First Amendment says “no law respecting an establishment of religion”, which is clearly a much more inclusive mandate. To me, the wording rather clearly means no law respecting any religion regardless of whether it’s established and or one in the process of establishing itself, period. Between the establishment clause and the free exercise clause the clear mandate is government neutrality (and silence) on both religious matters including matters of theism versus non-theism, neither encouraging nor disparaging either. Christian, prayer in government congresses clearly violates that mandate. It amounts to government endorsement of some particular religion(s) over other religions and particularly endorsement of religion in general over non-religion. Of course, I take the latter to be pretty much exactly your point. Unfortunately in this troubled political environment, it’s a point that can’t be made often enough.


    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I agree with you, but you’re not on the Supreme Court (nor am I). I suspect the conservative majority on the court will let these sorts of sectarian prayers continue even if it means that 90% of them come from Christian fundamentalist/dominionist clergy.

      I think the strategy after that is for groups of secular individuals in the communities where these prayers are offered request a turn for secular invocations in which words are spoken for the “edification” of the board, but no prayer is offered. The requests will be denied or accepted, but either way it will function as a register of dissent.

  2. Longtooth says:

    Yes, you are right about that, but sometimes I wish I were. Still, there is some chance the court will disqualify sectarian prayer, leaving only invocations of a non sectarian or Deist nature. The Supreme Court itself opens with no more fanfare or pretense than “God save the United States and this honorable court”. The establishment of this non sectarian judicial ritual is a bit uncertain, but it does date back close to the foundation of the Nation. Back then, as I understand the history of the issue, many of the Nation’s founding notables did advocate that belief in God was necessary for the development of a moral nature. A moot point to be sure. However, the God they virtually unanimously advocated for was God in the Deist sense, uncoupled from and transcendent of any religious persuasion or its scriptural artifacts. Many conservative Christians nevertheless like to cite the aforementioned writings as evidence that the founders intended that Christian prayer should be an integral component in the conduct of government congresses. However, I challenge those same conservative Christians to find any instance in any of the aforementioned writings where any mention of Jesus, Jesus Christ, or the Bible is actually made

    Anyway, even if the court sides with my view of the historically more appropriate position on deity invocation, your essential concern remains valid. That is, belief in the supernatural is endorsed by government to the exclusion and disparagement of doubt and non-belief. It amounts to a clear and unequivocal social status inequality. In keeping with the spirit of your initiative, I therefore offer the following invocation as possible a non theist alternative.

    “Ladies and gentleman, citizens and residents of this enlightened city, I enjoin you to stand, sit, or squat, whichever is your preferred position for serious focused thought. I enjoin you to set aside the superstitions and mumbo jumbo rituals of antiquity and acknowledge that critically thinking minds are immeasurably more productive than praying lips. The business at hand compels us as a group of intelligent thinking adults to collectively focus on and solve this city council business autonomous of any appeal to mythological idols to do the work for us. It’s this fundamental responsibility of competent adult citizenship that is laid naked before us this day. May we do it well. In keeping with the original motto of our Nation, a motto whose history and tradition validly stems from the earliest history and tradition of same, I say to you in closing, E Pluribus Unum.”

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Your invocation works as well. The point is that anything should work. You can say anything in those three minutes. If you get three minutes, I get three minutes, the fundamentalist Christian gets three minutes, the Sufi gets three minutes, etc.

      Everybody who wants a turn, gets a turn. Period. Or the city shouldn’t get to take taxes from those it excludes.

      Assuming the Supreme Court sides with the fundamentalists on this one, the long-term solution is to simply wait out the fundamentalists. They are declining as a percentage of the population, I’m convinced, and over the next century fewer and fewer city councils will want to do this sort of thing. Democracy itself will slowly but surely wear away religious dominionism.

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