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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thoughts about public prayer at the Rockingham County Board of Education

At last night's monthly work meeting of the Rockingham County Board of Education, the proposal was put forth that the board should begin each session with prayer.  It's been a longstanding custom to have a moment of silence.  If the board approves of it at the May 13th meeting, that would be replaced with a public prayer before an official function of government.

Here's the story from today's News & Record...
Board members spent nearly an hour talking through the finer points of whether they should open meetings with prayer. It was discussion that at times became tense but never contentious.
The school board currently opens its meetings with a moment of silence. Board member Ron Price asked the board to consider adding prayers during the last meeting.
The members will vote on the issue May 13
The possibility of a lawsuit was brought up Monday night by board member Amanda Bell. She said she doesn’t want to put the school board at risk
Fellow member Leonard Pryor also echoed those concerns.
“It’s my firm opinion we’ll be sued,” Pryor said
Earlier this month, legislators proposed a bill allowing for the establishment of an official state religion. The bill, which died in committee, was a reaction to a recent lawsuit against Rowan County, whose Board of Commissioners insist on having explicitly Christian prayers before meetings
Forsyth County lost a similar lawsuit in 2011, and the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case last year
Guilford County commissioners are currently reviewing their prayer policy
Price said there is a way to have an invocation without crossing the legal line
“We have to have a format before we can say, ‘OK, we can do this without violating the court’s decision,’ ” Price said.
I'm of a few opinions about this, and they're not necessarily contradictory.

Of immediate concern is that adopting a policy of prayer before the meetings will make the Board of Education wide-open bait for a lawsuit.  And don't think that there are already "civil rights" lawyers who've already gotten a whiff of blood about it, too.  Are the board members prepared for a long, drawn-out legal battle which will cost the taxpayers of Rockingham County money which, I hate to say, we are sorely lacking at the moment?

However, I'm also of the mind that this should not be fodder for a lawsuit at all... because it's not really a matter for outsiders to come and meddle with at all.

I've never understood how something like prayer at events like public meetings, high school football games and the like could ever be an infringement of the rights of any person, or group of people.  We are a constitutional republic, one purpose of which is to defend the minority from the depredations of a majority.  It's why as a whole we aren't a pure democracy.  But so far as public prayer goes: what is there to be defended, at all?

It's like this: so long as it is not a violation of the rights and privileges a person has as defined by the Constitution, there is a lot of leeway for a local unit of government on such matters as choosing whether or not to open a hearing with prayer.  Or a moment of silence.  Or nothing at all.

The way it should be is that the people of Rockingham County will let the board members know what they - the citizens - wish in this regard.  And then the Board of Education will discuss and vote from there.  If by and large the people of Rockingham County approve of it, then there can and should be prayer before the meetings (preferably with a rotating roster of local clergy).  If people disagree, then they should lobby to change the policy.  If they believe it is important enough then individuals should take it upon themselves to run for seats on the Board of Education in the next election.  In fact, I would even suggest that the current board members be made aware of that... and in no uncertain terms!  There is a lot to be said of accountability from your publick officials when they realize their actions can lead to possible unseat-ment.

Again, this is a local matter.  One that we ourselves, the citizens of Rockingham County, should define for ourselves.  If there was a public school district in, say, a predominantly Catholic area in New Jersey and the board chose to reflect and respect the population it serves, it should be free to ask a Catholic priest to offer a prayer of invocation at its meetings.  Our friends in Utah should be free to let a Mormon minister do likewise at their hearings.  The same holds true for a predominantly Jewish community, if it would like a rabbi to bless each meeting.  In Rockingham County's case, it's safe to say that we are quite a melting pot of various perspectives about God... but for all intents and purposes this is a community that does have a faith in God.  We may not agree with all the particulars about Him, and whoever is asked by the board should understand and appreciate that.  But if we as a locality desire to ask for His wisdom and guidance in our public hearings, then we should be afforded that liberty... and without the fear of lawsuit from external interests!

However, there is one last thing I wish to be considered: that asking God for that wisdom and guidance doesn't begin with any action or permission within the halls of any earthly government.

I have no reason to believe that a public prayer before a school board meeting, a county commissioners meeting or a session of the United States Senate is going to be any more sacred than a prayer each and every person offers to God in quiet solitude at home, or beneath a tree, or wherever a person happens to feel they need to be for that communion.  We can let a minister speak to God on our behalf at a public meeting, but we listen to God best when we are alone with Him.

In other words: a public prayer is of little or no good if the people sanctioning it can not and will not pray to Him on their own.

It was once said that America is great because her people are a virtuous people.  But we have come to expect, even demand a "virtue by proxy".  Many of us petition and scream for public prayer, or a display of the Ten Commandments in the courthouses and schoolhouses, or that a Christian cross be put up in a city-owned park.

I have no problem with any of those things whatsoever.  I do however have a lot of problem when such material symbols take upon greater importance than the meaning behind them.  We have more desire to see a thing with our eyes than to have a thing inscribed upon our hearts...

...and that is what I would ask the members of the Rockingham County Board of Education to consider, as well as any who are considering similar measures.