An issue now playing out before the United States Supreme Court, and even the City of Pismo Beach, could have an effect hereabouts.
That issue is whether public meetings should open with prayers. Plaintiffs in a case before the high court and plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo Superior Court both are asking for prayers before certain public bodies to be outlawed.
The Madera County Board of Supervisors, the Madera City Council and the Madera Unified School District Board of Trustees all open their meetings with prayers.
If the plaintiffs should prevail in either court, an end to prayerful practices before Madera County’s own public bodies may not be far off.
Irony abounds in such decisions. The Supreme Court, the Congress, the Senate, and the California Legislature all open with prayer.
In Madera, the public bodies that open with prayer normally hear an invocation from a Protestant minister, sometimes from a Catholic priest. Early this year, a Hindu prayer was offered. I’m not sure whether I’ve heard a prayer offered by a Muslim, although there is a Muslim congregation in the city.
Sometimes a minister who has been scheduled to pray at a particular meeting won’t be able to show up. In those cases, a member of the council or board will be asked to pray.
The prayers don’t favor any particular religion — they generally ask for God’s blessings on the proceedings and on the municipalities. Some are quite thoughtful, others are stream-of-consciousness, some are outright babble. You never know what you’re going to hear.
But one thing is for sure: They aren’t designed to convert anybody.
If someone feels religiously pressured because of those prayers, that someone is hearing something I’m not hearing.
But the objections to prayer in public meetings still pop up, even though they are a tradition that reaches far back in the history of our country.
I don’t understand the discomfort nonbelievers feel when a believer offers a prayer for peaceful deliberations or for the welfare of a municipality. It’s certainly more uplifting than a lot of speeches or presentations one hears in those meetings.