Hold That Thought: Should Cuyahoga Falls City Council be spending time talking about prayer?

by Scott Shriner | RPC Associate Editor Published:

Should Cuyahoga Falls City Council continue to have a prayer before its meetings? That's a tough and touchy question. Here's another one: Should this issue be taking up Council's time? 

If the people care about it, yes.

Councilman Terry Mader, as the body's chaplain, says a prayer before each meeting. A group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation, through a correspondence to the city in late January, objected to that practice, calling it "unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive."

Council had already said that they weren't planning to stop having prayers, but they invited residents to share their thoughts on the matter March 3 at the end of a public affairs committee meeting. Several people, some passionately and all quite eloquently, stated their opinions either way.

Some agree with the Foundation's message that the practice is exclusionary. They say Council's prayers are the equivalent of declaring Christianity as the city's religion.

"I'm Jewish," one resident told Council. "When someone invokes a prayer at a public meeting that is meant to include everyone at the meeting, and the prayer ends with words such as 'In Christ's name, in Jesus' name,' I feel left out."

Some feel that calling upon God to guide city officials in their leadership of the city is an appropriate and even crucial expression at government meetings.

"The removal of prayer … would violate the principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence," another resident said. "It would send a message that we will not stand on principle but that we would cower to the threats of bullies -- a form of tyranny that our Founding Fathers stood opposed to."

My opinion? I personally don't think a prayer before a City Council meeting is necessary, but I'm not offended by it. No one is forcing anyone to pray. You can ignore a prayer at a Council meeting, just like you can delete an email which bothers you or doesn't interest you. 

I tend to think that government meetings should be short and efficient, and the time should only be used for what will directly serve the taxpayers' interests. Cuyahoga Falls is a big city serving upwards of 50,000 people; Councilmembers have many responsibilities on their plates. Should they be spending valuable time dealing with the issue of whether they have a prayer? 

Given the turnout the other night, I'm glad Council is paying attention to what residents, on both sides, are saying about this issue. More than 100 people attended the March 3 meeting and it's clear that many more Falls residents than I realized feel strongly one way or the other on this matter. I applaud Council for listening to them, and acknowledging that the subject is important to the people they serve.

I guess we're part of why the issue has gotten so much attention; the Council president said she got lots of response to a story the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press published on this subject last month and that response was one reason the invitation for residents to speak on March 3 was extended. I'm glad that our story helped bring this subject out in the open. Part of our job is to reflect, illustrate, and respond to the interests and attitudes of the community, and this is clearly a topic that many in Cuyahoga Falls feel deeply about. I applaud them, too, for getting involved and speaking their minds.

Councilman Mader told the Falls News-Press after the March 3 meeting that, although he respects all the opinions that were shared on this subject, he doesn't plan to change what he's doing. I hope residents appreciate and accept that decision. Councilmembers can't please everyone. But it's appropriate that they've been listening to all sides.

Email: sshriner@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9426

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  • By the President of the United States of America:
    A Proclamation

    Whereas the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the supreme authority and just government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations, has by a resolution requested the President to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation; and

    Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord;

    And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

    It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

    Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do by this my proclamation designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. And I do hereby request all the people to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite at their several places of public worship and their respective homes in keeping the day holy to the Lord and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

    All this being done in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

    Done at the city of Washington, this 30th day of March, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-seventh.

    ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

    WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State .

    *******Citation: Abraham Lincoln: "Proclamation 97 - Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer," March 30, 1863. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=69891.

  • With all due respect. One cannot "ignore" someone orating prayer a few feet away ,anymore than one can ignore an inconsiderate neighbor who plays blaring music. If the councilman believes that the almighty will hear his prayers regardless of how they are delivered, then why would he be opposed to a moment of silence? Could it be that the councilman is more interested in provoking those who do not share in his belief, more so than making certain his message is received ?