South Jersey Clergy: Township Council Should ‘Muscle Up’ with More Sectarian Prayers

It’s possible that once the township council of Galloway, NJ (my hometown) had unanimously voted to allow prayers at its council meetings, a tumultuous subject was now more or less closed. It was not to be.

Some quick background: In February, I shared with you a thwarted-coming out of Michael Cluff, a secular activist with the South Jersey Humanists who had planned to out himself as an atheist at one such meeting with a short statement, but because of the way they had wound up running the meeting (holding the vote on prayer before anyone had a chance to talk about it), Michael never got to deliver his speech. He allowed me to reprint it later on Friendly Atheist, so it wasn’t a total waste.

But prayers at council meetings were now officially in place. Last week, however, the Press of Atlantic City reported that some folks weren’t satisfied. And I’m not talking about local atheists. You see, the “compromise” reached was that prayers would not be given by clergy, which are obviously sectarian, but by councilmembers only. To local pastors, of course, this seemed like weaksauce, and with the current case before the Supreme Court on legislative prayer (where prayer has the backing of the White House), the pastors and their allies are emboldened:

“The reason they (officials) are doing the prayer is because they don’t want to be sued. I understand that, I appreciate that. On the other hand, let’s muscle up here. Communities have been taken to court over this issue and they have won and are continuing to pray,” said Pastor Tom Douglass of Highland Community Church.

And of course, the logic for “muscling up” is ironclad, coming from Deputy Mayor Tom Coppola:

In God we Trust is on our money; the Pledge of Allegiance has God in it. I think it’s ridiculous and unfortunate that it came to not having religious leaders come to meetings and pray.

Q.E.D., right?

Well, now the controversy has the attention of the local branch of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Ed Joyce, president of the Delaware Valley chapter of AU, has on op-ed in the Press (thanks to Michael Cluff for the tip), and states eloquently what, to us, is obvious:

In a diverse society such as ours it is impossible for both believers and non-believers to feel included when governments show favoritism toward one faith over others. Whether intended or not, when a government official or government body condones sectarian prayer, a message is sent: Believers are more equal than non-believers, and members of minority religions are relegated to second-class citizenry.

[ . . . ]

Given the growing diversity of religious (and non-religious) thought in the United States, it’s clear that more and more people won’t stand for exclusively sectarian prayers at government meetings – nor should they.

And we won’t. Let’s see what happens next in Galloway.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • corps_suk

    OMLogic…what is it in the psyche of these full sized children that makes them want to force prayer on people?

    Maybe its a education thing, if 50% of the people believe in creation and the ark, them maybe 50% of people dont realize we live in a secular country.

    • Spuddie

      This is NJ, albeit a bit of the rednecky part of it. Bible thumping creationist morons are rare there. This is an attempt by the religious right to gain a toehold in an area which has always been hostile to them.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    “In God we Trust is on our money; the Pledge of Allegiance has God in it.
    I think it’s ridiculous and unfortunate that it came to not having
    religious leaders come to meetings and pray.”

    And then once we have sectarian prayers at council meetings, then it would be just ridiculous not to have the school day start off with a prayer. And then we can have our religious symbol exclusively on the township seal, and then…

    I am not usually a fan of slippery-slope arguments, but this seems a classic. The allowance of “ceremonial deism,” deemed harmless by SCOTUS, leads undereducated rubes like this to conclude that we are an evangelical Christian country where they can fling big steaming bags of their personal religion all over the place. The “reasonable person” standard obviously cannot apply in cases like this. Statements like the above show why we need to make an issue of every bit of god-bothering that comes down the pike. Allow one little “harmless” thing, and they will make a mountain out of that molehill.

    • Bitter Lizard

      “Slippery slope” is the point. They want to set legal precedent and push it as far as they can. I don’t really give a shit about religious monuments and the other “little things” in and of themselves, but they matter because religious people see them as a point they scored in a game they intend to win.

    • Spuddie

      Its less slippery slope and more examples from past conduct. Slippery slope imagines future results. This is an simply something which has worked before for these sectarian types and is just repeating itself.

    • UWIR

      When it’s obvious to anyone with any sense at all that these will be the consequences, there’s a strong case that slippery slope arguments are not fallacious. When the other side argues that this should be a consequence, it’s an open and shut case that slippery slope argument are not fallacious. Any judge who defends the concept of “ceremonial deism” is either a complete moron, or is making pathetic excuses for their out-and-out bigotry. “Ceremonial deism” is no more exempt from accusations of bigotry as is ceremonial cross burning.

  • Octoberfurst

    I don’t understand why some people have this pathological desire to shove their religion down everyone’s throat. Do we really need to pray before every event? Every councel meeting, every football game—well, every public gathering actually. And of course it is always CHRISTIAN prayers that are given. Apparently there are no Buddhists, Jews, Muslims or Hindu’s in America who might want to be included in this prayer love-fest. It is total arrogance on the part of these wingnuts to think they have the right to demand that everyone kowtow to their personal religions beliefs. The only acceptable response to this nonsense is an extended middle finger.

    • Buckley

      Pathological is correct. But why should it surprise us? See, Xians are commanded to spread their message and when we try and stop this spread they claim persecution. Their message spreading and defense of the the bible as truth is the same circular logic…”I am commanded to spread my the gospel because the bible tells me too…if you stop me then you are persecuting me, because my bible tells me what I have to do…” The minute I speak about secular humanism my so-called “friends” who are christian tell me…”you’re allowed to be an atheist, I just don’t have to hear about it, do I?” The longer I’m at it, the more intolerant I become.

      • pRinzler

        How else can you sell the product without spreading the message?

        • JohnnieCanuck

          And if you don’t sell it, you won’t be able to fill the collection plates, so market the Hell out of Him.

          • TheG

            Which is strange because their god tells them not to market it in public.

            A good enough product will sell itself.

            • JohnnieCanuck

              My take on that bit about praying in private is that believers should not advertise how pious they themselves are. It hints that their prayers should not be directed at an audience of men in order to impress them, rather they should focus on giving God their respect.

              Elsewhere, there is Mark 16:15 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” How does one fault someone who believes in Hell and who actively seeks to keep others from eternal torture? Annoying though they are, of course.

              Regarding your conclusion, I once came across a story of a Rajah or someone who had both Christian and Muslim missionaries working on him to convert. He did a bit of comparison shopping and decided on Islam because it promised him a heaven with lots of sexy women as opposed to standing around singing the praises of God.

              • DavidMHart

                He did a bit of comparison shopping and decided on Islam

                I really hope he drew up a list of pros and cons on both sides, like in the Some Grey Bloke cartoon.

              • TheG

                My response is simply that since there is no order to spread the gospel in public, Mark 16:15 combined with the earlier admonishment about public prayer, it is meant to be done in private.

    • Spuddie

      Power. It is a way to give the impression of political power to the exclusion of others far in excess of numbers actually supporting their agenda. It tells other faiths, they are not allowed welcomed nor will be taken seriously.

  • Spuddie

    Are they fucking kidding?

    New Jersey is one of the most religiously, ethnically and racially heterogeneous states in the country. There is no way sectarian nonsense will be seen as anything short of outright discrimination against sizable portions of their population.

    What makes this even sillier is that the people proposing this stuff aren’t even the majority faith in the town! Even majority rule/tradition doesn’t apply here. Its a way for members of minority Protestant sects to take on the appearance of government power and influence beyond their numbers. I think the only way they can get away with this stuff is to avoid any kind of major public exposure.


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