By Hank Zumach, February 8, 2009
It is very important that those La Crosse Common Council members who want to hear a prayer spoken out loud before the beginning of Council meetings be allowed to do so. After all, the First Amendment requires freedom of religion and speech in almost all circumstances. However, it is also very important that spoken prayers not be included as part of the Common Council agenda. After all, the First Amendment prohibits the mixing of sectarian religious ritual and governmental functions or the forcing of anyone to participate in any religious ritual.
Fortunately, there is a very simple solution that can satisfy everyone’s preferences. The council members who wish to hear a prayer can meet outside of City Hall before the start of the meetings. The people speaking the prayer can invoke Jesus, Yahweh, Mary, Allah, Buddha, Shiva or even Mithra if they choose. There can even be several people, including council members if they want, giving different prayers to their gods. Individual members of the common council, and members of the public, will be free to decide whether they want to attend the prayer session or not. Everyone’s wishes and the requirements of the First Amendment will be satisfied. Problem solved.