By Linda Hart Green
“Will you offer a prayer, Reverend?”
I have been asked that question countless times over many years and the answer was always, “Yes!” I am fortunate that prayer comes easily for me. Of course, there were extremely difficult times like at a graveside after an untimely death or at the bedside of someone critically ill. I have prayed at weddings and graduations and building dedications and ordinations. When I was in my mid-30s, I took an administrative position over 110 churches in the greater Boston area. I was often called upon to pray at a variety of functions without prior notice. There was no time to get nervous. I had churches from different language groups where prayers had to be translated. I prayed in grand historic churches and in small ones that met in a rented basement. I attended two or three services or events per Sunday. It’s a good thing I was younger and full of energy then. Praying in those situations felt like the right thing to do.
But I have never been asked to join in a prayer in a city hall meeting by a member of the audience.
A speaker during the public comment portion of a recent Fernandina Beach City Commission meeting asked if the gathered group would join in the Lord’s Prayer. The mayor asked the assembled group if it was okay with them and many shouted, “No!” But before any decision was made, the speaker started the prayer and many joined. I bowed my head out of respect but could not pray. The situation felt awkward and uncomfortable to me.
I come from the historic Baptist tradition, which championed the separation of church and state. City hall did not feel like the right time or the right place to pray during the public comment period. People present had strong feelings about the issues being discussed based on their religious viewpoints but it was a government meeting, not a church service. I think we need to be careful and discerning when the lines between what is government and what is religion get blurred.
We also need to be respectful and remember that not everyone shares the same beliefs and practices. Did you realize that there are 30 different churches on Amelia Island? And there are probably a few more that I missed when I was counting. If we were supposed to pray and believe the same way, wouldn’t there just be one church?
(I realize every city commission meeting is opened with a prayer led by a local Christian pastor, but I believe a secular prayer led by leaders of the various religious traditions represented on our island is the most appropriate way to continue this ritual.)
At last week’s commission meeting, if the prayer led by the member of the audience at that time and place was meant as a positive witness or as an effort to evangelize, I think it had the opposite effect. That made me sad because prayer is an important part of a life of faith.
If you watched any of the recent coronation ceremonies, you saw that it was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, who placed the crown on the king’s head. That’s not how we do things on this side of the pond. Not having prayer as part of government is not unpatriotic. It is recognizing that in our country, religious and civil authority is separate. The separation between church and state protects freedom of conscience and allows for the flourishing of a multicultural democracy that protects the rights of all its citizens.
If you invite me to your church, I will gladly pray with you. If your religion is different from mine, I will respectfully listen while you pray in your way to the God of your understanding. I will pray in private for the well-being of my community and for all its citizens. Just don’t ask me to pray in city hall during someone’s public comments.
Linda Hart Green is Pastor Emeritus of Emmanuel Church, Ridgewood, N.J., and co-owner of Shady Ladies Art Studios and Gallery in Fernandina Beach. She holds an M.Div. and a Certificate in Pastoral Leadership Development from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Amen, Rev. Linda.
You disrespected God. Shame on you.
You disrespect yourself and your community. Be quiet.
I was extremely bothered by this “show”.
it was inappropriately timed and a tool to further bastardize and weaponize Christianity.
We each have our own journey of faith, or lack thereof.
This prayer was not shared with us but forced upon us.
Thanks for your thoughtful insights.
Sheila, Is there anything that doesn’t ‘extremely bother’ you? So sorry you were ‘forced’ to listen to the Lords Prayer. Rough day in FB when that happens!
Perhaps you might listen to Sheila. And learn that “prayer” is subjective and personal.
Yes, it is a rough day when that happens, because it happens much too often. There is a small segment of vocal and activist Christians that would like to force their opinions of truth and how the world works on everybody else. Forcing everyone to partake in the prayer, even if they didn’t say it or believe in it, was absolutely inappropriate at a governmental meeting.
Thanks for the commentary. I felt it inappropriate and just part of a planned spectacle by CDF.
And now everyones favorite liberal pastor, Linda Hart Green, who is obviously clueless on what the ‘separation of church and state’ means in America, lectures us on how ‘awkward and uncomfortable’ she felt, at the last city commission meeting, while a citizen used part of her 3 allotted minutes to say the Lords Prayer. Was the Pastor forced to join in? No. Did the good Pastor also feel uncomfortable and awkward with all the name calling and false narratives? Don’t know cause she doesn’t comment on that part of the meeting. Wonder why?
YOU seem to be the one clueless on separation of church and state! Separation being the operating word
The meaning of the phrase “separation between church and state”
Jefferson wrote in response,
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
John Adams, a favorite of many Christians, also wrote that religion and religious beliefs had no part in the writing of the Constitution, contrary to what many Christians would like to believe.
Humm.. Dont think you are correct about Adams, who was a Deist, and wrote this about God and the Constitution.
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
liberals are like that
What a meaningless blanket statement about people you disagree with.
Are like what?? How sweeping of you!
Why so angry at the pastor’s personal thoughts? Such venom is uncalled for.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.
Can someone explain to me how a request to say the Lords Prayer at a city council meeting in any way violates the 1st amendment? I don’t know that I agree with the person who wanted to say it, but claiming that it has anything to do with separation of church and state displays a sad ignorance of what the 1st amendment says. Saying any kind of prayer at such a meeting has nothing to do with the state establishing any kind of religion and people at the meeting can either join in or not.
Or you can say your prayers at home.
I agree with you 100% in your understanding of the Constitution.
Well then you both misunderstand the US Constitution and 200+ years of judicial precedents.
Discussions of the meaning of the US Constitution are very interesting since very few of those kitchen table experts have never studied all the debates before the state assemblies that convinced them to ratify it. I true understanding of the few words in our Constitution can not be found without that. As to religion, remember that congress, during the early years of our Constitution, paid for the publishing of a great number of Bibles
Reverend Green was right to be uncomfortable. That prayer didn’t come from a place of love. It came from a place of hatred, anger, and disrespect. That person created a spectacle. It was forced, insincere, and politically driven.
In Matthew 6:5-6, Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
“Public” prayer is the uncomfortable part here. A Christian based prayer is not inclusive and needs to be confined in the mind of the followers.
Just curious: What would this discussion be if the prayer requested was “Hare Krishna”?
Anyone? Anyone? How about asking to pray to Allah?
Traditionally the point of prayer is to honor,pay respect or love to God..give hope or comfort to those in need..ask for forgiveness or help in a time of trouble..extend love or strength to those around us. Curious as to what the reason or need there was for the prayer that night other than theatrics…
Beautifully stated, Linda.
Thank you, my favorite, wise, liberal pastor
Because there’s so much that passes for truth, including this article and the comments to it, let’s go back to the beginning.
The first clause in the Bill of Rights states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That’s all it says.
I’ll let the Supreme Court’s decisions speak to the need for the state to be neutral regarding religion where the use of government funds are subject to the neutrality test, which requires the government to treat religious groups the same as it would any other similarly situated group.
In a test of Ohio’s school voucher program, the Court held 5-4 in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) that Ohio’s program is part of the state’s general, neutral undertaking to provide educational opportunities to children and does not violate the establishment clause. In his opinion for the majority, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that the “Ohio program is entirely neutral with respect to religion.”
In 2022, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Carson v. Makin that Maine could not exclude families who send their children to religious schools from its state-funded tuition reimbursement program. The program helped children who live in rural areas without public schools nearby, but said the tuition could not be used for religious schools. The court, in a ruling written by Justice John Roberts Jr., said that the policy violated the parents’ right to freely exercise their religion and that a public benefit that flowed to a religious school based on a parent’s choice did not “offend” the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Saying the Lord’s prayer in public is twice protected speech.
Thanks for sharing but I think you stop with the facts before you get cancelled. Lol
Practicing righteousness before others brings no rewards.
Observe a minute of silence. Silently pray to whomever/whatever one wants. Problem solved.
Thank you for this thoughtful perspective Linda
I, too, felt uncomfortable with the call to recite that prayer in that setting.
The word that comes to me when I think of that event is “performative” – it felt like an attempt to wield a faith-based point of view as a weapon.
It saddened me because it was not an attempt to unite but instead an attempt to separate.
Religion in Fernandina Beach, Florida [date/source of data not listed so take it with a grain of salt]48.2% of the people in Fernandina Beach are religious: [majority are not religious]
– 23.1% are Baptist
– 1.1% are Episcopalian
– 7.3% are Catholic
– 0.4% are Lutheran
– 4.0% are Methodist
– 3.1% are Pentecostal
– 1.7% are Presbyterian
– 1.2% are Church of Jesus Christ
– 6.2% are another Christian faith
– 0.0% are Judaism
– 0.0% are an Eastern faith
– 0.0% are Islam
Thanks for the statistics. It doesn’t really matter how many are religious. If the speaker had wanted to say the prayer as part of his or her three minutes, that’s up to them, but it was entirely inappropriate to ask other people to join and force others to have to respond to it, even by remaining silent. Perhaps the speaker was well-meaning, but it shows a social immaturity on their part.
It’s a small percentage, no doubt, but there are more than 0.0% Jewish people here, duh.
Prayer has no place at a government meeting. Just stop with the theatrics and pay heed to 250 years US history with respect to the separation of church and state.
Love group prayer and Fernandina Beach’s spirit and commitment to our Lord.
I agree with Linda Hart Green. This country was founded on freedom of religion.
Having prayer during a public meeting is not consistent with these tenets.
Good gosh! Here I am falling victim and joining the whinos. how dare we live our lives thinking that we are free of any offense, or any other opinions being shared with us or near us ridiculous! I think it’s time for Americans to grow up!