The problem with public official prayers

We believe in freedom of religion, something that is becoming more and more important to Christians in light of the possibility of official suppression.  Along with that comes the rights of non-Christian religions.  Public governmental meetings are allowed to open with prayer, but that prayer cannot discriminate against the various religions.

Recently, a member of the Escambia County Commission in Florida walked out of the meeting, after an “Agnostic Pagan Pantheist” did an “invocation” that he found weird and satanic.

Wouldn’t it be better not to have any prayers at all at these meetings, rather than force those in attendance to participate in such syncretism?

From Video: Fla. commissioner walks out of meeting when Pagan delivers bizarre ‘satanic,’ singing invocation – BizPac Review:

A Florida pagan was given the opportunity to offer the invocation at an Escambia County Commission meeting Thursday, but one commissioner wouldn’t stick around to hear it.

By law, the commission had to allow David Suhor, a self-described Agnostic Pagan Pantheist who worships nature, to give an invocation, according to ABC affiliate WEAR-TV.

When Suhor recited the pagan prayer in song calling of the directions north, east, south, and west, Commissioner Wilson Robertson walked out.

“People may not realize it,” Robertson told WEAR. “But when we invite someone, a minister to pray, they are praying for the county commissioners, for us to make wise decisions and I’m just not going to have a pagan or satanic minister pray for me.”

Suhor said he wanted “other people to experience what it’s like when I go to a meeting and am asked to pray against my conscience.”

“The boards have had prayers and they’ve been almost exclusively of the majority religion, so I wanted to offer an alternative.”

Suhor has been before the county commission previously, as well as the Pensacola City Council, but the Escambia County School Board has refused his request.

School Board member Jeff Bergosh explained his stance on his personal blog site, saying this:

“I mean, should the majority of persons in attendance at one of our meetings really have to listen to a satanic verse? What if a “Witch Doctor” comes to the podium with a full-on costume, chicken-feet, a voodoo doll and other associated over-the-top regalia? It could easily get out of hand, so far as I can tell….(I wonder what our local media would say about this?)

And I won’t stay and listen if someone tries to be disrespectful like that.”

Litigation could be in the works soon, as Suhor says he may sue on the grounds of discrimination against religion, adding that the board should consider a moment of silence instead of any prayers.

“I think they should not be offering a prayer or sponsoring a prayer of any particular religion instead,” he said. “I think they should have an more exclusive moment of silence which allows anyone to pray according to their own conscience.”

Conservative Lutherans, in particular those of the Wisconsin Synod, have long had problems with “prayer fellowship.” Isn’t there some wisdom in that?

In the case of Satanists, do we really want to ask the devil to help our elected officials?  Isn’t there enough of that already?

If you believe that only Christian prayers should be allowed in official meetings, how can you justify that in light of the Constitutional requirements of religious liberty?

If you believe that all prayers should be accepted, do we need to draw any lines?  Is what the commissioner did a good solution, whereby people who are offended by a particular prayer can just leave?

Or is there some kind of neutral civil religion that can acknowledge the state’s Two Kingdoms reliance on a generic deity, without violating the principles of the spiritual kingdom?

HT:  Paul McCain

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