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February 2, 2006

Expressions of Beliefs

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

At the January 19's mayor and board meeting in the City of Frederick, newly elected Alderman C. Paul Smith offered an invocation. In his extemporaneous prayer, he closed his prayer in the manner he has been taught, by acknowledging the existence of Jesus Christ.

You see, Paul is not just a father, husband, scout leader, basketball referee, and alderman. Paul is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly referred to as Mormons.

Many Christian denominations teach this method of prayer, and the New Testament clearly lays out the manner and method for offering prayers. For people who subscribe to this system of beliefs, prayers are not just memorized and repeated by rote. They are individual, deeply personal communications between a supplicant and their God.

Other belief systems also spell out prayer mechanics. Nonbelievers dismiss these methods as trite and clinging to traditions and mythology. To a believer, delivering an honest and thoughtful message to their divine ruler is one of the most sacred rituals they can perform.

This is true whether you believe in Jesus, Allah, or Buddha.

By invoking the name of his Savior, Aldermen Smith meant no slight nor harm to anyone, either in attendance or watching on television. How do I know this to be true? I know this because I know the man, and nothing about him that I have seen over the years would lead me to believe otherwise.

Other legislative bodies begin meetings with a word of prayer. No lesser body than the United States Congress begins their workday with prayer. Even our own Maryland General Assembly follows this tradition.

A licensed minister, imam, or preacher delivers the prayer offered in Congress. The prayers in Annapolis are offered in two ways, the Senate follows congressional tradition, while the House of Delegates allows its members to offer the invocation.

These prayers are non-denominational, and those who offer them try to avoid offending people who hold differing belief systems. The legislative body provides written or verbal advice on how to offer a prayer.

The logic is clear and unassailable; starting off an official meeting with a word of prayer brings a sense of peace and focus to the proceedings.

Those who express anger, disgust, and frustration over the fact that Mr. Smith closed his prayer according to his own faith might be accused of trying too hard to get a simmering pot to boil over.

The assertion that an invocation at the start of a public meeting is a constitutional violation is a misrepresentation of the truth! The U.S. courts have already weighed in on this; the mayor and board have every right to allow an invocation.

Historical revisionists and faith haters can try, but the attempt to banish prayer from public meetings is a matter of settled law. Get over it, already!

Instead of crying (or whining) foul, maybe the other elected officials and opinion leaders, who fear the intrusion of church into matters of state as a result of one prayer, ought to invest energy into crafting some friendly guidelines for future invocators.

That way, they can protect themselves and others from hearing things they don't want to hear, while allowing anyone to express words of encouragement, peace and comfort before the start of a city meeting.

I, for one, would love to hear an Islamic Imam offer a prayer in his own language and tradition. A rabbi and cantor can capture my attention and imagination and whisk me through the ages to an ancient time and temple.

I find nothing the least bit offensive about hearing another human being express their faith in the manner they must. On the contrary, my own faith is strengthened by exposure to other people's faith and traditions.

Of course, my suggestion to the complainers presumes that those who have been spending so much time complaining are really interested in developing a solution, as opposed to developing an argument and getting some attention.

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