San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 6th, 2009
Council to look at prayer practice

STAFF REPORT

The San Marcos City Council is taking up its policy regarding invocations at its meetings Tuesday night.

The council, particularly Mayor Susan Narvaiz, has come under fire in the last several months for opening meetings with sectarian prayers. Among the most vocal opponents of the practice is former City Attorney Lamar Hankins.

Last month, Narvaiz and councilmembers received a letter complaining of the practice, dated June 15, from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas.

The letter said AU and the ACLU viewed video of every city council meeting between September 2008 and May 2009 from the city’s website. Of the 13 meetings in which prayer was included in the on-line video, according to the two groups, every prayer except one either began or ended with an invocation of the name of Jesus Christ.

“We write to inform you that sectarian prayers at City Council meetings are unconstitutional,” AU and the ACLU said in their joint letter.

The council will take legal advise concerning “law applicable to legislative prayer” in executive session Tuesday night before addressing the matter in open session.

Pastor Robin Steele of PromiseLand Church in San Marcos has alerted other local religious leaders that the question will be under discussion by the city council Tuesday night.

In an email to local clergy and others, Steele advises that, “If you are interested in this matter, then now is the time to act and let your voice be heard. You can speak at the council meeting if you go to city hall and get your name on the list. Simply showing up or emailing the council will work also.”

In their letter to councilmembers, AU and the ACLU said the United States Supreme Court has ruled prayers opening legislative sessions to be constitutionally permissible if and only if they don’t use language or symbols specific to one religion. AU and the ACLU cited a 1983 decision, Marsh v. Chambers and a 1989 decision, County of Allegheny v. ACLU, as upholding legislative prayer that “removed all references to Christ.”

AU and ACLU, in their letter, also cited eight cases in which state and federal courts struck down sectarian prayer before legislatures and other representative public entities.

However, AU and the ACLU also said that even non-sectarian prayer won’t represent the traditions of non-Judeo-Christian believers or those who practice no religion.

“Because the San Marcos CIty Council is a representative body for all residents — Christians, Jews, nonbelievers, and others — we urge you to consider ceasing the prayers altogether in order to make all feel equally welcome at Council meetings,” the letter said. “If, however, you decide to continue your practice of opening meetings with prayer, we ask that you take steps to ensure that the prayers are nonsectarian, as the law requires.”

The letter closes by requesting that the city advise AU and the ACLU of its intentions on or before July 15. The letter is signed by Ian Smith, Staff Attorney for AU, and by two attorneys for the ACLU Foundation of Texas.

In other action at Tuesday night’s San Marcos City Council meeting, it is expected that the council will consider providing an interest-free loan of $5 million to a group hoping to re-develop the largely vacant Springtown Center with an Alamo Draft House as an anchor tenant.

The council also is likely to approve an adjustment in city policy for granting variances to persons wishing for additional watering options during drought, and it is likely to approve the appointment of Les Stephens as the new city fire chief.

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0 thoughts on “Council to look at prayer practice

  1. Fight it. Fight it! FIGHT IT! The people that drafted the constitution opened their sessions with prayers, including prayers containing references to Jesus Christ. We were founded as a Christian nation but you are free to follow whatever religion you chose. Prayers before meetings do not constitute the establishment of an official religion, which is what the constitution forbids. Stand up City Council! Don’t give in to threats. Ignore the ACLU and let your actions speak for themselves. The Supreme Court once said slavery was legal and people could be property. We the People are the final arbiters of what is constitutional! If you have to go to court, then go and defend the foundation of our nation, which is under assault from multiple directions. You spent a lot of money fighting against something much less important, namely the Planet K car. The public is behind you on the prayer issue!

  2. I’m glad that someone has taken up this issue. While recently attending a Council meeting I was offended during the invocation that assumed everyone in attendance is Christian. I do understand that Christianity is historically the most popular religion in the country but we are not a theocracy. If we are to have pre-meeting invocations, everyone’s beliefs should be fairly represented.

    The spiritual, secular, and religious can all exercise personal liberty with a moment of silence.

  3. Our city council needs to respect our nation’s constitution, needs to respect other religious beliefs, and needs to refrain from invoking religious incantations during council meetings. Its amazing how un-Christ-like many of these supposed Christians behave. Jesus’ gift was introducing tolerance and mutual respect. The Council, the Promiseland pastor, and the 1st 2 commenters above need to realize that invoking personal religious beliefs at state functions IS exclusionary, and, when its done with full knowledge that it is unconstitutional, gives the impression that the Council flagrantly disrespects other religious persuasions. San Marcos is fortunate to have men like Lamar Hankins keeping an eye on Council; thanks for your hardwork.

  4. It’s this kind of “political correctness” that has bogged down our various levels of government to the point that nothing meaningful to citizen’s daily lives can get accomplished—everyone is posturing, wasting time on “feel good” issues. Perhaps the ACLU should invest a little time and resources in helping resolve real issues that affect people— like poverty, homelessness, jobs that pay livable wages, clean environment, and medical care/affordable insurance. Oh wait, those things take REAL solutions and not shuffling paperwork on supposed moral, ethical issues that “feel good” and are “PC”….
    IN other words, quite just finding fault and complaining…go out and do something constructive and positive that will actually improve the quality of life for people!!

  5. Say what you want about the ACLU, but they are correct on this topic. And from a religious perspective, I have never liked co-mingling religion and government because it tends to water-down religion (notable exception being the theocracies present in the middle east). I can tell you that a friend of mine, a Jew, is tremendously uncomfortable with Christian prayer at Council meetings. This is not just “those crazy atheists are at it again;” this issue affects a lot of people. It is not hard to adapt a Christian prayer to a non-sectarian prayer while maintaining its meaning. Perhaps its my Quaker upbringing that resulted in a more personal & quiet relationship with God without use of an interceder, but outward displays of prayer & devotion have always made me uncomfortable outside of a religious setting.

    I understand why folks like Spencer & COS above are so passionate about the issue and certainly respect their positions–I’ll acknowledge that the ACLU has taken on some bonehead cases in recent years. Over the last several decades the U.S. has become progressively less homogenous, particularly in regards to religious beliefs. Personally, I think the moment of silence approach may be the best option, as it offers people to opportunity to pray indivudually for what they perceive as the Council’s greatest need at a particular meeting.

  6. The most progressive thing to do, would seem to be to rotate through invocations from various religions and substitute a moment of silence from time to time.

  7. yeah, you may say that we should switch to more of a “moment of silence” style prayer to make more people more comfortable…but then what? what about athiests? if we give into this, eventually, even a moment of silence will be “uncomfortable” for them. since when was loving my god and seeking out his will for the city unconstitutional?

    And Sean, yes, Matthew 6 does speak out against public prayer, but it’s speaking of prayer for the purpose of “showing off” if you will. it’s not speaking against God’s people asking for guidance. There is nothing unbiblical about that.

  8. Yeah, Brian. Politicians have never been guilty of using God to show off. However, I think it speaks to the real nature of prayer, something private between an individual and God.

    I have no problem with a general non-sectarian prayer at the opening of any meeting. People are free to participate, or not. However, when government starts endorsing deities, even ones that I worship, that does cross a line. That line exists to not only protect government from religion, but religion from government as well. It’s a good line to have.

    This comes down to a simple issue of politeness. It’s polite for a government that represents people of all faiths to represent that in a prayer to a common deity. Nobody is forcing their religion on anyone. One of our founding freedoms is the freedom to worship, or not, as one chooses. A sectarian prayer assumes one faith exists exclusively, and disrespects the many others that are present in San Marcos.

    Again, it’s about being polite.

  9. It’s an interesting exercise to think about this issue while standing in the shoes of my Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Bahai, and atheist friends in San Marcos. And when I think of how Jesus instructed his followers to pray, I don’t understand the thinking that brings prayer into the workings of our government. Prayer is a private matter in my tradition.

  10. Diann and others–
    Try to remember the History of this Country, that it was
    founded as a CHRISTIAN Nation,by Christians migrating so they could worship Christianity. The Muslims,Buddhists, and other religious types came here knowing this was the situation and recognizing they were a minority deferring to the structure of this government. ACLU and other politically correct distortion groups
    are doing their best to destroy the fabric that country was built upon.

  11. Several of those commenting here keep referring to the United States as a “christian” nation, thereby relegating all non-christians to a sub-category of citizens, and a lesser one at that. Religion is indeed a personal and private thing, and overt expressions of religious belief have no place in government affairs. The theocratic, and oppressive, governments of the Middle East are prime examples of mixing the two. Surely all these christian writers don’t have them in mind as examples of good government! If you must pray, pray privately before the meeting.

  12. Well, Leighton. If you’re referring to the original pilgrims who landed in what is now Massachusetts, then you are partially correct. However, they didn’t found a country. They founded a colony. There’s a difference. Those that came to the southern colonies were far more interested in profit than God. I refer you to Alexis de Tocquville’s outstanding book, “Democracy in America.”

    As to your statement that this is a Christian nation, you are wrong. Please find me a reference to Jesus Christ in the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, United States Code, ect, that explicitly and specifically lists this as a Christian nation. It doesn’t. You know why? Because the founders came from Europe and knew what religion plus government could do to a people. It usually involved a great deal of killing, often in the name of the Prince of Peace.

    The majority of this country is Christian, but majorities never once conferred morality or truth. If a majority of people decide that 2+2=24, that wouldn’t make it so. Assuming a national, unified faith based on population statistics is just faulty logic. We have never, ever enshrined in law that this is a Christian nation, nor should we.

    Those Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and even non-believers came here because of the freedom to choose their own way of life, not to willingly assume the yoke of a seemingly oppressed and barely tolerated minority.

  13. Sean- You need to do more research and travel and stop listening to your liberal friends.. When you view the Governmental buildings in Washington you should note that all of the important Buildings inside and out have Christian inscriptions as all were built with Gods Divine beliefs. I am not particularly religious,but
    don’t confuse the proper history of this country with
    current academic leanings. My ancestors began coming to this country in the 1600’s and all came to practice Christianity as most everyone else did in the formative years.

  14. Leighton, I have been to Washington D.C. and seen carvings and paintings. The dome portrait of the U.S. Capitol, “The Apotheosis of Washington,” features Greek and Roman gods. Do we all worship Zeus or Athena because of it? The interior of the House of Representatives chamber features relief portraits of Hammurabi the Lawgiver, Maimonides and Suleiman the Magnificent. That’s three different faiths (Baal, Judaism and Islam).

    Symbolism, art and carvings does not equal law though. These symbols represent the richness of the American experience, as is even reflected in the national motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” or “Out of many, one”.

    There’s no revisionist history here Leighton. Just looking at the law and facts of the matter. However, assuming this was intended to be a Christian nation, then why did none of the founding fathers bother to enshrine this in law? Coming from England, which did have a national religion (Church of England), they certainly had ample example and precedent.

    The First Amendment reads as it reads for a reason.

  15. Leighton—since you are citing history, let’s remember REAL history {not the Columbus crap saying he “found” America, hell even the Vikings were here long before him}. Real history— this land belonged to the Native American tribes. So if you want to have historic religion then I guess we should go back to what they practiced, right? Saying that those of other religions “knew what the religion was when they came” , well,then that applies to our Christian ancestors too, right? Then again, that would mean deciding which Native American religion to follow, huh? Jesus Christ practiced tolerance, so should you and others. Live by his example which was devoid of politics of mankind, rising above such nonsense and focusing on helping people. What a concept…we should be Christians like him and not like those who alter the concept playing “holier than thou”….

  16. This country or colony as it were, was also built by oppressing one whole group of people and enslaving another. Thankfully we have been able to progress in a more healthy manner, kind of….

  17. Go ahead. Outlaw prayer (sounds like we have no choice IF we believe the ACLU). I do not want pagan ‘prayers’ which is what will happen if we have to be inclusionary. It is impossible to actually STOP prayer. I suggest Christians still gather outside the city council meetings and bow their heads and pray. Repent on behalf of a city where godless people are being go contrary. Pray for our city leaders. Pray Christian prayers. They can silence us in the council chambers, but they can’t silence us altogether. Oh, and prayer for the man who started this all and the people who support him.

  18. Excellent solution. If prayers from other denominations will offend Christians, then it seems like a pretty simple decision. Let everyone privately pray in their own way.

  19. Sean, please don’t take biblical passages out of context. Jesus was referring to a jewish sect, the Pharisees, that made a habit of requiring the impossible of common people in order to “comply” with the law. So, the common person was probably not capable of keeping every part of the law and, therefore, was a slave to old judaic law. These same Pharisees would then parade around praying, so that those same people would see them being religiously superior. Jesus was warning against doing anything religious without a having a humble heart. Jesus hated religion, but loved a pure heart. Praying in public was not the problem. The Bible says to “pray without ceasing.” It’s the condition of the person’s heart that is praying that is at issue.

  20. Bam! You done got schooled Leighton!

    As an athiest I’m mostly just amused at public prayers. When a govt entity cites Jesus I smile inside and think “that’s going to catch up with them someday”. But if I were a Jew I think I would have steam under my Yarmulka. Since I’m in the closet I sometimes wonder if anyone notices I don’t say amen.

  21. Folks just need to grow a little skin and stop being so damn easily offended. When did us Americans become such wimps?

  22. PS, you want to have a prayer to Allah or Zeus, get a leader from that church or group to volunteer for such a prayer. It would not offend me in any way.

  23. Dr. Smith, I would actually encourage religious groups to meet before Council meetings for prayer. To me, doing so in a less formal setting like that would be more likely to put elected officials in a positive frame-of-mind prior to a meeting. As it stands with it being part of the meeting schedule, the prayer seems more contrived than contrite (again, this may be my Quaker roots popping up again).

  24. whereas i’m personally happy in the city council’s decision today, i’d just like to remind all christians on this message board to keep the situation in your prayers, because i feel this one is gonna cause a bit of an uproar. However, whatever the outcome, know and remember that God will find a way to work through it, and that his ultimate will will always be done.

  25. It’s interesting that the lady from ACLU said tonight that these prayers would have the result of making those of another belief less confident, and not as empowered in the public square. Hmmmmm … one of the most passionate and bold speakers on another subject tonight was a person not of specifically Christian belief. That person never said anything about feeing intimidated. One of the beauties of of America’s ongoing conversation is that we should learn to let people speak freely. Would that not include the right to pray or express one’s beliefs in public? Or does it only cut ONE WAY …Hmmmm

  26. And I will add that when the PEOPLE (remember them, the ones with “of the” and “by the” and “for the” always nearby) automatically cower under the supposed authority and bluster of the ACLU, and become fearful of practicing free speech and free exercise of religion, the fear becomes the de facto law. The fact is ACLU has LOST many cases on these kinds of things. Of course they are exercising the right to not tell you that.
    I will correct my Christian friends on one thing. (I am a Christian by the way, or prefer to be called a follower of Jesus, but am learning in increments how to do that) This Nation was founded by largely Christian believers who saw the wisdom in forming a secular nation based on Biblical and Christian principles. Many of the founding fathers, the same ones who insisted on a secular gov’t, also wrote that the moral underpinnings and power of the Gospel of Jesus was an essential element in the success of the American Experiment. If you look you will find volumes of these kinds of things written by our founding fathers.

  27. Good post BB, hopefully this will cause many
    of the interested posters to read more History of the Formation and intent of the founders of this Country.

  28. where does it state separation and church and state in the Constitution? When was that phrase coined?

    Sorry Leighton, but I have to agree with others…we weren’t found on Christian ideals. Remember we “Christians” killed off the Native Americans…Trail of Tears ring a bell?

  29. It doesn’t say it in the Constitution. The idea comes from John Locke’s social contract theories. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, raised the concept saying:

    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

    Jefferson was a pretty smart guy.

  30. Our nation was created by specifically Christian, bible toting men who believed that we answer to a higher power than the government we created. In fact, the very first expenditure Congress made was to purchase bibles for schools. Look it up!

    The premise for the highest law in our land, the Constitution, is that God created people, and that people, whose only authority is God, created and must therefore be responsible for course their government takes. It is our sacred DUTY to watch them with a vigilant eye. The ‘created’ can never be higher than the ‘creator’. Therefore, government gets its permission to exist and to operate from the people. If it did not operate this way, then a few people could clack a gavel and vote away your RIGHT to do ANYTHING they choose, or anything that some of the people want them to do.. like special interests groups, or people who like to use the strong arm of government to make people live a certain way, or believe a certain religion, or accept

    The government’s ONLY duty is to protect our God-given rights! They have NO OTHER DUTY and all other things that we ALLOW them to do MUST FIRST protect our God-given rights. It is not necessary for government to do nearly ALL of what we see them doing today… for example, voting to change the form of government we set up into a ‘corporation’, or voting to abdicate their specific responsibility to coin and mint our money to a ‘private’ entity, such as the federal reserve, or voting themselves a raise in pay, or voting to raise taxes, or voting themselves the power to count the votes!

    We are warned hundreds of times by the forefathers that governments are evil because of the sinful nature of man. They advised the election of HONEST, CHRISTIAN people, and said that this is essential in order to safe-guard God-given RIGHTS, lest the lust for money and power turns to tyranny by the few against the many. Are we today seeing people in government lusting for rule over all resources and over every aspect of our lives? Any excuse is a good one for a tyrant to turn a RIGHT into a need for government ‘permission’. After all, when the servant becomes the master, rights become privileges that can be granted, taken away or denied all together.

    When the forefathers came to America, King George made his ‘subjects’ pay tax to the STATE RELIGION, the Church of England. The forefathers made a government that had no authority to compel ‘religious’ taxation. Yet, churches are 501 c 3 organizations under federal laws…

    But this is not to say that religion could not be involved in government! In fact, Church is where early Americans traditionally gathered to pray AND discuss political matters of the day.

    So government can’t lawfully create, regulate or otherwise get involved in religion, but NOT so the other way around. It’s OUR government. The most important responsibility we have is to see that the government servants obey the Christian principals of the Constitution, and do their duty to protect, not legislate away, our God-given RIGHTS.

    If you don’t get your rights from a higher power than Government, then you are a slave under it.

  31. To quote the late, great Bill Hicks…”Do you think when Jesus comes back he’s ever going to want to see a cross again? That’s kind of like going up to Jackie Onassas with a sniper rifle pendant.”

    “Just thinking of John, Jackie (pow pow)”

    Oh, and FANTASTIC use of CAPS to EMPHASIZE a POINT there BELLA. NOTHING lends CREDIBILITY like KNOWING where THE caps LOCK key IS.

    You people should know something about the first amendment before getting it so pathetically wrong. You aren’t right. Your religion isn’t that special, and this whole thing has become just stupid.

  32. Well, as the person who started off this conversation, I suppose I will be the one to end it . . . maybe. I was heartened by the thoughtful responses of so many people. This is an important issue, mostly because of the larger implications for religion in public life. One final thought: It always amazes me how people will say things to others in emails and blogs that they would never say to their face. And, virtually every time, it is someone who apparently hides behind an anonymous handle. If that is you, you should know that you are most likely achieving the opposite result of what you intended. Have a little courage and state your opinions in the open with a smidgen of courtesy toward others. Then, perhaps, you will be taken more seriously and people will be inclined to give thought to your ideas.

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