Why one prayer and not another?


There will be a New Albany city council meeting next Thursday (October 19), and when it is called to order, there will be an invocation.

The city’s daily rulebook, otherwise known as the Code of Ordinances, explains the proper procedure for the invocation, which in this sense is best defined as “a form of prayer invoking God’s presence, esp. one said at the beginning of a religious service or public ceremony.”

The following order of business shall be observed by the Common
Council at its meetings:
(A) Invocation. To be given by ministers, if present of different faiths.

Readers, if you’ve ever attended a city council meeting, you know that the invocation is not offered in this manner. Instead, the established custom is for all persons in attendance to stand like so many bashful schoolchildren and collectively mumble the Lord’s Prayer.

As a contrarian, pagan and atheist, I’ll confess that it makes little sense to me to mandate a public display of personal religious commitment. Doesn’t it demean whatever value there is to the notion of prayer to require its recitation? Does it count for more that way than if observed silently? Does reverence follow audible volume?

Granted, New Albany’s voluminous Code of Ordinances is routinely ignored, often with results far more deleterious to the city than the potential for embarrassment implicit in a long held habit of invocation that sadly and mistakenly assumes Christianity to be the only faith worth citing.

It’s also true that in this case, the ordinance is poorly and ambiguously written. Is the invocation to be said only if ministers are present, or perhaps only if ministers of different faiths are present?

I believe the passage in the ordinance implies an obligation to allow ministers of different faiths, if present at the council’s biweekly meetings, to offer invocations – including, perhaps but not necessarily restricted to, the Lord’s Prayer. Nothing in the wording suggests an obligation on the part of those in attendance to do any more than listen, if that.

As currently practiced, the council’s invocation is a de facto rejection of cultural diversity, yet significantly, the ordinance itself need not be changed. It merely need be enforced.

Animists, Muslims, Wiccans, Confucians … we need you to attend a city council meeting and to insist that your version of an invocation be heard in the manner described by the original ordinance.

Diversity would be more entertaining. However, holding your breath is not recommended.