On March 21, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will vote on an ordinance to delete invocations at its meetings. Some people see this as a war on religion. Not at all. Doing away with prayer at government functions in no way interferes with people’s right to pray at home, in their churches, out loud on radio and TV or silently all day long.
In fact, the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution protects free exercise of religion. But it also prevents secular government from becoming a theocracy.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution knew about the suffering in Europe whenever countries identified themselves with a particular religion. When Spain had Catholic monarchs, Jews and Moslems were forced into exile. In Protestant England, Catholics were persecuted.
After religious dissenters fled to America some Christian colonies established laws against other Christian denominations. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists and Freethinkers have all faced discrimination and violence over the centuries.
Today we see Sunni and Shiite Muslims at war with each other over who controls the government. In the Jewish state of Israel there is no Civil marriage. Non-believers must leave the country to get married, intermarriage between people of different faiths is not allowed unless one converts to the religion of the other, and a Jewish man can refuse his wife a divorce.
Here in America, thank goodness, the separation of Church and State is a well-established constitutional principle with which the Borough Assembly must comply in order to avoid litigation. There is simply no way to make invocations “fair.” All will invoke a personal deity, the majority religion will get the most chances to speak, non-believers will be ignored, and secular government will waste time and resources. The fact that prayer before these meetings has been going on for 30 years does not mean that the tradition needs to continue forever. I suggest the time to stop is now.
Public comments will be taken at the March 21 meeting in Soldotna. In Homer the Borough Annex Building at 206 E. Pioneer Avenue will be open for telephone comments. You can also comment in writing at www.kpb.us.