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Prayer helps remind us that we need one another

As a person who has made some reasonable effort to live in accord with the faith I’ve been a part of for all of my life, I must admit that the decision of the Supreme Court to allow public prayer at all levels of government has left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the majority opinion that sanctions prayer as a part of our nation’s “ceremonial” heritage seemingly deprives its content of any real value and/or effect.

On the other hand, while the minority opinion is admirable in its empathy toward each citizen’s sense of inclusion, its claim that public prayer risks alienating an individual’s “equal share in her government” – as if prayer somehow deprives a person of equal access to and representation by government – borders on the nonsensical. Furthermore, it strikes me as both misguided and excessive to deny an individual or community its right to self-expression simply because someone else may be offended by its content. There is almost no place I can go in today’s society where the speech of someone else doesn’t offend me, including that of many politicians.

Is there some good latent within communal prayer that transcends its ceremonial and sectarian aspects, a good that all citizens can participate in at a government meeting? That question can be answered by focusing upon that which prayer represents and does at its most fundamental level. All prayer gives expression to an awareness of our own human frailty and limitations. It articulates our common needs and, ideally, desires. Its occurrence in a public meeting calls upon those present to be united in a pursuit of the common good throughout the deliberations. Sectarian language aside, the act of common, ceremonial prayer should remind us that we need one another.

Michael Sherry

Orchard Park Town Council Member