In recent weeks I have objected to government-led prayers during Wilkes-Barre City Council meetings by making statements before council (1, 2), appearing in television/radio interviews (1, 2), writing letters to local newspapers, working alongside the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), and much more. A common response I have heard from people amidst my objections is “leave the room if you don’t like it.”
People, like me, who have a vested interest in the proceedings of Wilkes-Barre City Council meetings (and perhaps also happen to work in Wilkes-Barre) attend meetings not to be subjected to religious ritual, but rather to engage with secular civil matters appealing and/or relevant to all citizens. Persons who desire to be subjected to religious ritual — whether they be religious or not — may attend religious ceremonies and/or places of worship wholly apart from what is supposed to be secular non-religious government activity.
Shall I, someone who wishes to attend government meetings free of religious ritual — as I should expect such meetings to be — leave the room or otherwise attend meetings at a later time because prayer occurs…or should prayer, as I request, be absent from meetings? This dichotomy — one created by those who object to my protestations of prayer — has a simple answer. Government officials, in order to adhere to the secular character of the United States Constitution and properly perform their jobs, should simply exclude prayer from council meetings.
As I noted in my July 2013 statement to council, government officials may pray outside council meetings or silently pray during council meetings rather than asking citizens to display reverence and including private citizens in religious rituals. Instead, government officials brazenly include — by sheer coincidence, I am sure — prayers which match religious views of the local majority (and likely those of the council members called ‘people of faith‘ by Wilkes-Barre Mayor Thomas Leighton).
Would the same people who suggest I leave the room or attend meetings at a later time (although meetings rarely — from my recollection — start at the advertised times) be employing the same rhetoric if, for instance, Muslim prayers were present during sessions? Would citizens of Wilkes-Barre tolerate Pagan drumming rituals lead by Councilwoman Maureen Lavelle? Shall council members host Hindu rituals including Mayor Leighton pouring purified water on a bronze statue of Shiva?
Leave the room if you don’t like those Muslim prayers!
Show up late if you don’t like the Pagan drum rituals!
You don’t have to participate in the Hindu rituals if you don’t want to!
The situation of prayer at Wilkes-Barre City Council meetings is quite transparent when considering the “leave the room” responses from citizens who enjoy Judeo-Christian prayers: religious incantations of a majority-favored religious view enjoy a privileged status at council meetings while other rituals — never present at council meetings — are excluded due to total government control of a message which is sent by council members.
Perhaps council can lead its August 2013 meeting with — at the very least — a recitation to Mohammad. After all, people can attend late or leave the room if they don’t like it. They don’t have to participate.
As always, feel free to comment below.
More information pertaining to government-led prayer at Wilkes-Barre City Council meetings can be found within the category of ‘council prayer‘ on this website.