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.