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February 1, 2006

Alderman’s Prayer Still a Hot Topic

Chris Patterson

You would think we had heard from just about everyone on the matter of Alderman Paul Smith’s invocation at a recent Frederick City meeting. Letters to the editors of local papers still trickle in on the subject. People still talk about it.

The newly elected alderman’s prayer faux pas, if you can call it that, really was a good thing. We are talking about the need for a prayer and what should be in the prayer and that’s a good thing.

Yes, Alderman Smith violated a rule made by a previous Board of Aldermen when they instituted the prayer. He mentioned a specific deity, Jesus Christ. But that is the deity in which he believes. You cannot sever him from his faith. To dilute his faith and his prayer in public would be to deny what he believes. That is unthinkable for a person of real faith.

One of the issues that most deeply divides this nation – and the world – is the matter of religion. Nothing separates one human from another more than religion; not cultural differences, not languages, not even gender.


Because religion is chosen.

You may be born into a family of faith, but in the end you choose it. It is that belief in a divine, infinitely powerful and all knowing Higher Being that defines you. It informs everything you do and say – or at least should. Believers of all faiths are married in their faith, raise children to believe in their faith and leave this world with their faith.

Those arguing the beneficial points of religion will say that religion gives one direction in life, purpose and hope. It is one’s value system with a Divine Being as the teacher and mentor, life coach, if you will.

Alderman Smith could not leave Christ out of his prayer, nor should he. As the majority of people in this country say they are Christians and thus believe in Jesus, Mr. Smith is in good company. Being in the majority is a powerful place to be. It’s comforting to know that most people believe you are right.

Some even argue that Muslims and Jews share a common God with Mr. Smith, which brings even more people into his circle. Of course, some Christians will tell you that idea is nonsense, as belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven.

And therein lies the rub.

There is no way to find common ground with fundamentalist Christians because simple faith in a Higher Power does not make you equals in the spiritual realm. If you don’t believe as they do, you are doomed to eternal damnation. With Christianity you have selected the one, true and only path to God. And, if you do not choose Jesus as your savior, you are doomed.

So, when residents of Frederick hear their alderman pray in the name of Jesus, it’s a good thing for Christians; they are united. Of course, if you are not a Christian, you hear Alderman Smith reminding you that he thinks you are on the dark side of the force and are going to burn in hell.

Assuming Mr. Smith’s comments as quoted in the press were correct, he believes it was good for him to pray in the name of Jesus because his constituents should know he is a Christian. That sounds a little like Mr. Smith thinks the invocation was really all about him.

Is the invocation just a chance for someone to make a public profession of faith – to announce it to everyone? Is it so all the people who believe as you do will stand with you because you believe in the same deity? Is that the defining idea that knits you together with your constituents?

And, if so, what is left for the constituents who do not believe as Mr. Smith believes?

Not to belabor this issue, but why do the city’s legislators need to hold a public prayer at all?

We are now in a new administration with a chance for a fresh start. There is a chance to put the division of the former administration behind us and to seek common ground, build relationships, work together as a team.

Dear Mayor and Board of Aldermen,

Please lose the invocation. Have a moment of silence if you must, but leave religion in your heart and off of public display in public meetings. Try to avoid leaving groups of people out of what you do, unless you can’t avoid it. You can’t make everyone happy, to be sure. But remember this: you do not have to do things that divide you and those you are sworn to serve if those activities have NOTHING to do with city business.

An invocation has nothing whatsoever to do with city business.

Please lose the invocation.


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