Striking a balance between praying and politics

Prayer as part of government meetings has a long — and often contentious — history in this country, and a recent court ruling on the issue certainly won’t settle this debate.

This case does, however, add one more brick to the legal foundation that’s been built by respected judges since this country’s inception: prayer by those in official capacities is fine, but can’t trumpet your specific sectarian religious beliefs at the expense of those who may have a different faith.

In some circles, those adhering to this interpretation of the Constitution would simply be called polite because they don’t want to offend those of different faiths. For many, though, being asked to refrain from proselytizing is taken as an attack on their religious freedom rights as Americans.

By my thinking, the truly religious truly have nothing to worry about.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that prayers led by county commissioners in Rowan County — prayers that were overtly Christian — led to the association of the government with Christianity and therefore were illegal. The court said the prayers were “pointedly sectarian” and “elevated one religion above all others.” In this case, Rowan County commissioners used the words “Christ,” “Jesus” or “Savoir” in 97 percent of their prayers.

This is an easy fix and does not deter those who are Christians — or who are of any religion — from asking for spiritual guidance as they deliberate how to best lead their community. And if elected officials sincerely want Jesus’ help and are not after public adulation, why do you have to ask out loud? You can pray silently while waiting for the meeting to start, or out loud in the privacy of your home, your car or anywhere else.

I’m no biblical scholar, but I do know that there are plenty of scriptures mocking those who loudly profess their faith instead of simply abiding by its tenets. If it came down to it, I think most Christians appreciate quiet devotion to Jesus’ teachings over chest-thumping proclamations of one’s beliefs.

Even my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Swan, knew this back in 1971 when I was attending College Lakes Elementary School in Fayetteville. Every single morning she read a Bible story, and I looked forward to hearing about the adventures of the likes of Moses, Solomon, David, Abraham, and Jesus and his disciples.

But there was no prayer because she knew it would be controversial. The stories were parables, lessons in courage, honesty, loyalty, devotion to family and standing up against wrongdoing. We got the religious aspect of it at church, but not in school — and that’s as it should be.

In the face of this ruling, a religious man asked to pray at a recent Haywood County Commission meeting proclaimed that “this smothering cloak of spiritual oppression and political correctness … is foolishness …”

To the contrary, it is the proper separation of church and state.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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