Democracy Has Prevailed.

December 5, 2015

The Lord's Prayer In Monroeville

Late this past week, Adam Shuck e-blasted a story about the Lord's Prayer in Monroeville. (If you're not a recipient of Eat That, Read This, you really should look into becoming one.  It makes good lunchtime reading.)

Anyway, Adam linked to this Trib article from mid-November:
Monroeville officials are considering whether to say the Lord's Prayer before council meetings after a resident raised concerns about the practice with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, a council member said Tuesday.
A little while later in the piece:
Duquesne University law student Joshua Allenberg, 34, said he wants officials to allow members of any faith to lead prayers before council meetings, instead of saying the same Christian prayer at the mayor's direction, which Allenberg said “smacks of an unfair advantage.”

“I simply would like to have prayer before meetings be offered by chaplains or laypersons, and for the municipality to allow requests from the community to deliver such an invocation,” he said.
So it's not about banning all prayers but about allowing all prayers in.  Let's be clear about that.  In my humble non-legal opinion (as I am not an attorney), at the very least, you have to let all citizens have a chance to offer up their own prayers.  If you won't do that, then no one should open the meeting with prayer - least of all the guv'ment.

Of all the local TV coverage on the 3rd, KDKA had the best, summing up Allenberg's complaint in 3 paragraphs:
“Every meeting, they’ve recited the Lord’s Prayer, which from my understanding, is a strictly Christian prayer. I’m Jewish. I wasn’t very familiar with it,” said Josh Allenberg, who opposes government led prayer. “To me, shows favoring one religion over another.”

Allenberg is a first-year law student at Duquesne University. He’s interested in Monroeville politics. He even serves on an advisory board for the borough.

“Elected officials cannot be leading prayers,” he says. “On top of that, governmental boards can’t be shown favoring one religion over another.”
For those few unacquainted with the Pater Noster, here it is (or at least the version recited by the Monroeville City Council):
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever.
While there are slightly different versions strewn across Christendom ("debts" instead of "trespasses", "your" instead of "thy" and so on) the text is taken from Matthew 6:9-13.

More on that a little later.

Most of the news coverage references a particular Supreme Court case, Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway et al and so perhaps a perusal through the decision might lead us to see whether our friends in Monroeville have trespassed over the 1st Amendment.

In the decision, the Court allowed prayer and overturned an lower court's decision allowing only nonsectarian prayers at town meetings, saying:
To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisor s and censors of religious speech, thus involving government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact.
However the Court does say a few paragraphs later:
Absent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible government purpose, a challenge based solely on the content of a particular prayer will not likely establish a constitutional violation. Finally, so long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination, the Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing.
And later, still:
Our Government is prohibited from prescribing prayers to be recited in our public institutions in order to promote a preferred system of belief or code of moral behavior.
Unfortunately, Monroeville Mayor Greg Erosenko seems to have missed that one when he was quoted by TAE as saying:
"It's very sad that we have come to this, taking what happened in California," Erosenko said. "Not just Monroeville, but I think our whole country needs a lot of prayer."
If he's speaking as a private citizen that's one thing, but if that's the official position of the Mayor of Monroeville, then we got a problem.  If the point of opening the meetings with prayer is to spread religion, then they've crossed a constitutional line.

And if they decide to continue the practice then they should be taken to court.

But taking a step back, my larger question is this: WHY WERE THEY DOING THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE?  What possible purpose is served by opening a public meeting with such an obvious religious prayer?  Doesn't matter how long they've been doing it.  It has no place in a secular society.  And we live in a secular society, make no mistake.  Wanna see what life is like in a theocracy?  There's any number of places across the globe to use as an example.  I'd imagine life's pretty sweet if you agree with the prevailing theology.  Now imagine if you didn't.

That's why the 1st Amendment bans the government from imposing any religion on any citizen.  In theory that should trickle down to the city council level as well.  They have no right to compel anyone stand and recite a set of words declaring a religious belief ("Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name...") in order to simply participate in a public meeting discussing public issues.

The irony of such public pronouncements, of course, is found just a few verses before Matthew 6:9-13 (And you thought I forgot about returning to Scripture, huh?).  Take a look at Matthew 6:5-6:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Don't be like the hypocrites who pray in public just so that they can be seen praying in public.  Wanna pray?  Do it in private.  Jesus said that, you know.

Will they listen in Monroeville?


Social Justice NPC Anti-Paladin™ said...

Progressives declaring prayer incomparable with Democratic values

Repeal the Second Amendment.

Ol' Froth said...

A venture proceeds near a unexpected daylight.

Unknown said...

Hi, I'm the guy who filed the complaint. The number of people who think this case is about being "offended" by prayer is staggering. I'm on my synagogue's board of trustees for crying out loud.

This case began after I had made a request to the municipal manager for my rabbi to deliver an invocation for a council meeting in September instead of the prayer. It went completely ignored. I studied Town of Greece heavily for a thesis project in constitutional law, and then I even consulted with a professor at the law school who has represented entities such as Central Catholic, the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh, and literally worked at the Vatican.

In addition, the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium sent a letter to the mayor urging him to adopt a moment of silence instead of a prayer before meetings. He's seemingly ignored this too.

Dayvoe said...

Mr. Allenberg;

Nice to see you and I am glad you found the blog! I appreciate the visit.

I trust I didn't misrepresent your case. If I did, please drop me an email and I'll update the blog post.


Unknown said...

Nope. I agree 100%.

(And I've been a long-time reader. Big fan :) )