It hurts that much deeper when it happens in your neck of the woods.
The mayor of Elmhurst, Illinois, Pete DiCianni, thinks that each City Council meeting should open with a prayer.
“We’ve got a lot of parishes in this community that can be represented,” he said. “We’re doing God’s work up here, and we may need (prayer).”
DiCianni said leaders of all faiths would be invited.
Not only is that bad policy, it highlights how uninformed DiCianni is. When other cities have attempted to wedge religion into local politics, it becomes the focus of the debate (and even the subject of lawsuits that waste thousands of taxpayer dollars). Other (real, serious) issues have to be pushed to the side so that some local politicians can pontificate about how much they love Jesus. Even when leaders of other faiths are invited, their numbers pale in comparison to the Christian pastors. And it’s a rare day when a Humanist is invited to deliver an invocation.
Yesterday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to DiCianni and the City Council (PDF):
Government prayer is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive. Calling upon Council members and citizens to rise and prayer [sic] (even silently) is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular city government. Council members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They should not worship on taxpayers’ time.
At least one official realizes how absurd this mayor’s suggestion is:
“We have been elected to do city business and opening our meetings with prayer and discussing the possibility of opening our meetings with prayer has the potential to bog us down in the discussion of whether this is appropriate,” [First Ward Alderman Diane Gutenkauf] said. “I would prefer to keep church and religious issues separate from governmental issues.”
Gutenkauf also expressed concern with how manageable it would be to include all faiths and those with secular views in the opening prayer.
“How do we cover everybody?” she said. “What if we can’t find a representative of a faith to show up?”
Why is it so hard for Elmhurst officials to stick to the jobs they were elected to do?
Mayor DiCianni owes the citizens of Elmhurst an apology for trying to turn Council meetings into a universal church for everyone.