Prayer in the Public Square

Another interesting post at The Wild Hunt, which deals with, inter alia, public prayer.

“In just a few seconds’ time during the April Town Board meeting, Jennifer Zarpentine made Greece [here referring to a town in New York; not the nation] history. Zarpentine, a Wiccan, delivered the first-ever pagan prayer to open a meeting of the Greece Town Board. Her hands raised to the sky, she called upon Greek deities Athena and Apollo to ‘help the board make the right informed decisions for the benefit and greater good of the community.’ A small cadre of her friends and coven members in the audience chimed in ‘so mote it be.'”Americans United, who recently helped win the veteran Pentacle case, is suing the town board in order to force it to switch to nonsectarian prayer (or no prayer at all). A move Wiccan Jennifer Zarpentine disapproves of. 

“Zarpentine said she was pleased by the opportunity to pray at the meeting. ‘I thought the invocation went well,’ she said. ‘The board was respectful;, they all bowed their heads.’ As far as the lawsuit goes, Zarpentine said the town isn’t being discriminatory. ‘They are including everybody,’ she said. ‘They asked me.'”

Which illustrates a point where there is some divergence between groups like the ACLU and modern Pagans. Most modern Pagans are fine with religious expression so long as there is full and consistent inclusion. While the AU, and similar organizations, take a harder line of enforcing nonsectarian or nothing.

It’s an interesting question.  My tendency is to prefer an inclusive religiosity to public secularism, largely because I don’t believe in a bright line separating religious activity from nonreligious activity.  Consider, for example, a Christian who volunteers at a local homeless shelter from a sense of religious duty.  Or prayers for material needs.  Or the way people use religious markers to define their identity (cultural Catholics, for example).  That’s not to say religious questions aren’t often contested and difficult, but it does suggest that a clear idea of the society we’re working towards may be worth some thought.

Ultimately, I just find the idea of a society where people are free to acknowledge and discuss their beliefs, provided they are respectful of the beliefs of others, more appealing than one which requires its members to maintain an often-false pretense of functional irreligiosity.

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~ by arkhilokhus on May 8, 2008.

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