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Rapid City is big enough for people of all religious beliefs — city council practice should reflect that. Photo by M. Mingda Liu.
Rapid City is big enough for people of all religious beliefs — city council practice should reflect that. Photo by M. Mingda Liu.

Amend the Public Amens

Feb 6, 2013

 

The Rapid City City Council opens every meeting with a prayer. More often than not, it's an explicitly Christian prayer. Christian officials give a Christian pastor a public platform to say things like, "in Jesus's name," meaning some of us—atheists, Jews, Lakota traditionalists, devotees of Jefferson and the First Amendment—can't in good conscience say "Amen."

A local citizen has complained. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has sent Mayor Sam Kooiker and the council a letter asking them to knock off the public prayers. Thus far, the council's unanimous response has been to tell complainers to jump in Rapid Creek. Christians turned out to fluff their faithful feathers at this week's city council meeting. Fifteen citizens spoke on the issue of official council prayers; just two spoke in opposition. Cole Bedford, a School of Mines senior, asked the council to be more inclusive:

"This is not a challenge to anyone's faith. It's an appeal to your empathy" said Bedford, an atheist who grew up in Sturgis attending church. He added that in a predominantly Christian region, it's important for a non-Christian to know they have an equal voice in government, a message that holding religious prayers does not send [Aaron Orlowski, "Council Voices Wholehearted Support for Prayers," Rapid City Journal, 2013.02.05].

Christian Councilman Chad Lewis showed his majority blinders by calling empathy and inclusion code words for bullying:

"I don't like being bullied. I don't like my children being bullied," council member Chad Lewis said. "I don't think (praying) hurts anybody. I don't see where it's actually offending anybody."  [Orlowski, 2013.02.05].

Really, Chad? Try this thought experiment: Suppose I work in a public school. My students file in, the bell rings, and I clasp my hands and say, "My students, I pray that you will work hard, because if you don't study these verbs, there is no God to save your grade. Amen, let's conjugate!" Or maybe I start each lesson with a hearty "Allahu akbar!"

Anyone hurt? Anyone offended?

The best prayer I ever heard was a public prayer. Giving the benediction at President Obama's first inauguration, Rev. Joseph Lowery closed with these words, "That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen."

Do justice. Love mercy. Those words don't affirm one local sectarian majority. They express what every councilor, every politician, every citizen should seek.

We're not all Christians, Rapid City, but we are all citizens. No church needs your official public affirmation of its faith. But all citizens deserve your affirmation of their equal status. Leave the prayers "in Jesus's name" to the clergy in their pulpits. At City Hall, focus your words on the mission of justice and mercy that all Americans share.

 

Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard every other Monday on this site.

Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.



Comments

02:29 pm - Wed, February 6 2013
Gary said:
I see an easy solution.... anyone opposed to the prayer shoudn't be in office or write/say anything negative about it. Make it a part of the requirements for future members of the City Council.

02:40 pm - Wed, February 6 2013
Ed Goss said:
If you don't say a prayer aren't you leaving out the christians. Just asking.
02:54 pm - Wed, February 6 2013
Gary, I hope that's sarcasm.

Ed, I don't leave out Christians by not having a prayer. No citizen is restricted frojm praying on their own time, in their own church, in their own way. But government doesn't need to pick sides to govern.
04:07 pm - Wed, February 6 2013
Chris said:
As an outsider looking in on this situation, I find it curious and a bit troubling. Two points to consider.

1. To asume that uttering a Christian prayer automatically equals injustice or inequality for those that are not of the Christian faith is (or at least should be) a false assumption. On the contrary, it should bring a sense that equality, grace, and lovingkindess will be on full display. If that is not the case, then the praying is not the problem, it is those that do not follow what they claim to believe.

2. Just for your reference, your example of the best public prayer comes from the Old Testament. Micah 6:8. "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."
04:12 pm - Wed, February 6 2013
dave tunge said:
I see a typical stereotype in CA's article, and one that hold a lot of truth. Conservatives who don't like something just don't do it, Liberals who don't like something don't want anyone else to do it.
It is that faith-based tradition that made America great and I pray to Jesus we don't lose those principles that are taking second place to the minority of liberals that holler like a hog stuck under a gate if they can't get their way.
07:53 am - Thu, February 7 2013
larry kurtz said:
Whether America is great is topic for another discussion.

'In God we trust' wasn't added to coinage until 1864 and not adopted as a slur to the Constitution until 1956. Just more jingoism likely intended as reactions to Sibby's Masons.

Thomas Jefferson saw the Creator as a clock-maker, a plate-spinner that invented the laws of motion then walked away.

Mentioning some dead jew who purportedly lived a couple of thousand years ago then turned into god by the holy roman kiddie diddlers in a state-sanctioned gathering is just crazed.

What's so sad is that people like Tunge are taken seriously such that South Dakota doesn't even see itself as conservative any longer.
07:53 am - Thu, February 7 2013
Bill Dithmer said:
Meanwhile here is a little thing from the Bible that sure seems like it fits this situation. It comes from the Gospel of Mathew in the famous " Sermon on the Mount."

From the sixth verse of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament " But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
Or in words that anybody can understand. "
"But you, when you pray, enter into your inner
chamber, and having shut your door, pray to
your Father who is in secret, and your Father
who sees in secret will reward you openly."

Can it get much clearer then that? Public showings of prayer are just that public showings of prayer. They even go against the very Bible that the majority of people believe in. Now that's phony, no funny, no it phony all right.

The Blindman
08:03 am - Thu, February 7 2013
Bill Dithmer said:
Conservatives who don't like something just don't do it, Liberals who don't like something don't want anyone else to do it.

Dave Tunge it depends on who's ox is being gored doesn't it? How about a couple of examples here.
1. abortion
2. gay rights
3. equal rights for women

See Dave it can go both ways. A lie is a lie is a lie. Stop the insanity.

The Blindman
12:42 pm - Thu, February 7 2013
mikeyc, that's me! said:
Sounds to me like the city council is saying that as long as they pray
before each meeting, it's ok to deport a black reporter and President
Obama to Kenya? What the....
07:51 pm - Sun, February 10 2013
Excellent counterexamples, Bill.
07:44 am - Mon, February 11 2013
Al Johnson said:
"1. abortion
2. gay rights
3. equal rights for women"

Excellent counterexamples?

1. It's not that conservatives don't want others to do it, they don't want others to do it TO OTHER PEOPLE.
2. gay "rights" is a misnomer. Conservatives have a long liberal streak that allows others to behave as they wish; naturally, as conservatives, there's a reluctance to confer societal approval on what is abnormal
3. name one conservative opposed to equal rights for women? It's not a counterexample when no such example exists


Atheists appear to be the most insecure group around if they believe that other folks praying is somehow offesive or exclusive
11:05 am - Mon, February 11 2013
larry kurtz said:
Subscribers to the religion industry like 'Al' and 'Julie' are becoming older and fewer therefore more "abnormal, offe(n)sive and exclusive."

Conservatism is unsustainable prima facie.
06:37 pm - Tue, February 12 2013
Again, I stand accused of weakness for advocating properly inclusive and non-establishment government. I thus ask again: if I start each day's class with a declaration of atheism or Islam, may I demand that the Christians in the room and the district simply ignore my expression of faith (or faithlessness) in my official state capacity? Is it a sign of Christian weakness to protest my committing that action?
08:35 pm - Tue, February 12 2013
Bill Dithmer said:
Wow Al for every example that you give you start out by saying things like this.". It's not that conservatives don't want others to do it." Then you turn around and admit that it is the very thing that you want by adding a little something to it.

Abortion legal, you don't want it to be but it is. That clump of cells in a woman's body belongs to her, not to you or anyone else that thinks they have a say in the matter. If it were not so babies would be brought by the stork or grown under a tree like a mushroom and not nurtured in the womb for nine months. So its mothers 100% ownership of that clump of cells, legislature 0. Don't talk about your rights until you have some. Your body, you have rights. Someone else's body, you have no rights. Isn't that simple.

Then you move on to this dribble. " gay "rights" is a misnomer. Conservatives have a long liberal streak that allows others to behave as they wish." Then why all the legislation that says otherwise? Oh that's right its because you don't believe in that sort of thing. Again Don't talk about your rights until you have some. Your body, you have rights. Someone else's body, you have no rights. Isn't that simple.

"name one conservative opposed to equal rights for women? It's not a counterexample when no such example exists" Al you are making it to easy here. Every single man that has sponsored a bill, every man that has co sponsored a bill, every person that has tried to throw up roadblocks to a woman's right to privacy at the doctors office, every person that has tried to shame a woman into doing something that she and only she has the right to make a decision about. Al you yourself wouldn't put up with the crap you want a woman to go through for safe medical care either for an abortion or for prenatal care.
08:38 pm - Tue, February 12 2013
Bill Dithmer said:
"Atheists appear to be the most insecure group around if they believe that other folks praying is somehow offensive or exclusive." I don't think you could call me an atheist. Not at all Al I could give a rats ass if you want to pray. Just do it in the privacy of your church or your own home and we wont have any trouble. No the problem with people like you is that you are always looking for a little something more, power. You think that if you can just get one more wrong in the ladder "prayer at a city council meeting, or a school board meeting, it equals power. I doesn't matter what the religion is if a person is so entrenched in that religion they will either use their faith as a crutch or as a club. That's a fact. When I bow my head while someone is saying a prayer it is because of the respect that I have for that person, not necessarily the religion. Can you say the same?Al I drink good whiskey, not to excess,I smoke pot, not to excessI write, sometimes to excess like I am now. If you think that makes me a bad person here is a little something for you.Al Johnson Matthew 7:1 Judge not lest ye be judged Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.Now Al I don't have to live by the same rules that your religion tells you to live by. I do live by most of them but not all. You on the other hand have been given some pretty straight forward orders to live by in the Bible. Why aren't you living by them? Is it just to darn hard to keep your mouth shut?From the pulpit of the CHURCH OF BILL this has been The Blindman
09:52 am - Wed, February 13 2013
Al Johnson said:
We're not talking about a young, captive audience in a public school clasroom.

We're talking about adults who choose to serve in elected positions and those adults who choose to attend public meetings.

If one can convince the elected panel to give praise to allah, the Great Spirit, or Chuckie Cheese, have at it. It would not offend me in the least.

That reminds me, why am I PHYSICALLY excluded from parts of the public property at Bear Butte for RELIGIOUS reasons? I have no problem with peopel praying in public places, but to exclude folks on public property is well, excluding.

Oh that's right: we're condemning Christianity, not all religions. This about attacking Christianity and trying to assuage the insecurities of atheists.

Here's the proof:
Would this author also suggest that NAs leave their "amens to the Great Spirit" on the rez and out of the state park at Bear Butte? Am I justified in being offended and exluded when I hike past restricted areas (for religious reasons) at Bear Butte State PArk?
11:06 am - Wed, February 13 2013
larry kurtz said:
The issue appears destined for litigation: expect a racist christian, GOP, red state judge to hear the case.

http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/opinion/sanborn-let-s-bow-our-heads-and-sigh/article_bc199515-7b3d-5786-8360-57161674b54f.html
01:15 pm - Wed, February 13 2013
Bill Dithmer said:
"Oh that's right: we're condemning Christianity, not all religions. This about attacking Christianity and trying to assuage the insecurities of atheists."

Al its no wonder that you are having trouble understanding the Bible, its your reading comprehensive skills. Here is what I wrote and you decided not to read.

" I doesn't matter what the religion is if a person is so entrenched in that religion they will either use their faith as a crutch or as a club."

See I'm an equal religion basher Al, don't start thinking you are something special.

The Blindman
01:36 pm - Wed, February 13 2013
larry kurtz said:
Rep. Kevin Killer withdrew a bill today that would have given oversight to prevent more South Dakota violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act because SCOTUS is going to hear a South Carolina case similar to his stupid red state's.

Rapid City may dodge the bullet on their dealio at least for a while as ACLU and the plaintiff in the case in that racist town are suing in a similar case in Ohio over an iconic portrait of a hippie-inspired jesus:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/02/13/171914801/ohio-school-will-go-to-court-over-a-portrait-of-jesus
09:40 am - Fri, February 15 2013
Al Johnson said:
"Here is what I wrote and you decided not to read."

How true. Nor was my response directed at you or a response to what you had written. Thus, I had no need to comprehend what you had written because I neither cared about what you had written nor was I responding to it.


09:47 am - Fri, February 15 2013
Al Johnson said:
My proof stands unassailed--this is about bashing Christianity, not "rights".


Here's the proof:
Would this author also suggest that NAs leave their "amens to the Great Spirit" on the rez and out of the state park at Bear Butte? Am I justified in being offended and exluded when I hike past restricted areas (for religious reasons) at Bear Butte State PArk?
04:12 pm - Fri, February 15 2013
Bill Dithmer said:
How true. Nor was my response directed at you or a response to what you had written. Thus, I had no need to comprehend what you had written because I neither cared about what you had written nor was I responding to it.

And yet you did.

The Blindman
04:23 pm - Fri, February 15 2013
Bill Dithmer said:
Here's the proof:
Would this author also suggest that NAs leave their "amens to the Great Spirit" on the rez and out of the state park at Bear Butte? Am I justified in being offended and exluded when I hike past restricted areas (for religious reasons) at Bear Butte State PArk?

What in the world are you talking about? Proof of what?Ignorance, bigotry, insanity?

I'm sure it doesn't matter a bit to the natives if you are offended or not. They didn't make you stand while they were praying and you didn't want to. Problem solved.

Now weren't we talking about a city council meeting? In that case the council is representing a multitude of different people, not just those in the Christian religion. If you don't see the difference there is no hope for you.

The Blindman
11:48 am - Sat, February 16 2013
"Al" (and we know you're using a fake name, but oh well), we're talking about unnecessary favoritism toward your preferred religion on the public dime. But Al, you seriously suggest that If I win the mayor's seat in Spearfish, and if I insist on opening each meeting with a declaration like what I described in my classroom question, you'll sit by and do nothing? You'll not scream abuse of power for my preferred religion? What rot.

If your religion needs the state to prop it up, you need a new religion.
02:17 pm - Mon, February 18 2013
Bill Dithmer said:
Cory please tell me it isn't so. Al Johnson pretending to be someone he is not. Perpetuating a falsehood to further his cause while at the same time giving the impression that he is the one taking the high road. Writing under an assumed name! Living and writing a lie?

So much for the "good book." For the last three years I have been having an argument with a man that is a liar. Is my face red? Not so much.

Come on over to The Church Of Bill Al. Bring your checkbook and you might be able to buy a seat at the bar.

The Blindman
11:52 am - Wed, February 20 2013
Al Johnson said:
Yes.

If elected people wish to begin a meeting with a "prayer" to Allah, the Great Spirit, or the Huskers, I'd have no problem with it.

As you stated previously, the first to toss ad hominem attacks, concedes the argument. Calling my post "rot" and resorting to name calling--you lose.
Now, if I were to call your column rot, you'd cry all the way to the publisher to get my comments removed. That's a rotten double standard.
03:01 pm - Fri, February 22 2013
I say this in all honesty: I will never ask any publisher to censor any commenter for labeling the things I write "rot."

I say that with much more sincerity than what I perceive to be coming from the folks here who say they're fine with their local city commission starting their meetings with prayers to Allah. I hesitate to pretend to read the minds of others, but I sense a false magnanimity based on smug majoritarianism: "We Christians will never face that situation, because we'll always be in the majority, so we can say whatever we want to these hypotheticals." If these commenters could place themselves behind Rawls's "veil of ignorance" and think about how they would make rules without knowing whether they would end up in the majority or the minority, they would not so blithely endorse government-sanctioned religion.
11:08 am - Sat, February 23 2013
Julie Gross said:
"I say this in all honesty: I will never ask any publisher to censor any commenter for labeling the things I write "rot."

At what point can we question YOUR honesty and by doing so, ignore your point(s)? Why isn't it ENOUGH to accept the person's honesty and sincerity, and discuss to the points?

"I say that with much more sincerity than what I perceive to be coming from the folks here who say they're fine with their local city commission starting their meetings with prayers to Allah. "

Really? We can call each other liars and insincere all day long, but your point remains, as does Al's. Questioning another's sincerity only exposes your own insecurities about your own positions.

NO ONE has endorsed government-sanctioned religion--that would be unconstitutional. That's a strawman. It is also unconstitutional for government to bar the free exercise of religion--that's EXACTLY what adults are doing BEFORE city council meetings that they freely choose to attend, whether as visitors or as elected officials.
05:26 pm - Sat, February 23 2013
Julie Gross said:
Majority vs. minority.

So, there you have it.

It's not about prayer--it's about CHRISTIAN prayer.

Suggesting that it's about a majority vs. a minority is non-so-subtle code for anti-Christian bigotry. Posters are correct: folks refuse to address the Lakota at Bear Butte State Park because this column is not about prayer by elected officials, it's all about CHRISTIAN prayer. Calling it the majority vs. the minority does not change the bigotry--it only reinforces it.

It's about bigotry. How intolerant in a column supposedly about inclusion.. The councilman is correct: stand up to bullies.
03:46 pm - Mon, February 25 2013
[Not that anyone else cares, but for clarity's sake, "Julie Gross" is one of "Al Johnson"'s false names. Same person, pretending to be multiple voices. That's why I usually don't bother responding.]

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