Pre-Council Prayers Can Transcend Religion


In God we trust.

That saying passes from hand to hand every time we make a purchase.

It's written on our money.

In another form, it's written into our national pledge.

That's why it doesn't seem odd to many people that the towns of Payson and Star Valley open their meetings with a prayer.

It's a tradition many towns and cities abandoned long ago, because religious belief is a minefield.

Just a year ago, the Supreme Court heard two cases involving the blurring lines between government and religion -- Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary v. ACLU of Kentucky -- dealing with the display of the Ten Commandments at the state capitals.

People don't want the government dictating how they should worship and, likewise, many don't want religion influencing the decisions of government.

But in the Town of Payson, where there are at least 50 churches to serve its 14,000 residents, people are comfortable listening to a pastor or a priest invoke the divine before the council gets to work.

Legally, the Supreme Court ruled in Marsh v. Chambers in 1983 that opening governmental sessions with prayer is historically embedded in our culture and as long as it's a nonsectarian prayer -- not favoring one religion over another -- there is nothing wrong with the practice. The trouble comes when government violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Of late, Payson has been casting its net wider in reaching out to all faiths for the pre-council prayer. In recent months, a Mormon, a Catholic, a Baptist and a Jew have prayed before the meetings. We hope the community would be as welcoming of still other religions.

While religion is the great divider of our world today, it can also be a great uniter.

Prayer, as long as it is broad and nonsectarian as the law states, can be a great reminder to step outside of ourselves for a moment.

If conducted in the right manner, there can be nothing wrong with the council pausing to pray for guidance before they steer the direction of our town.

If the goal of our leaders is to do the right thing, prayer is a symbol of what we are striving toward and great inspiration for that purpose.

Even an atheist or an agnostic can see the value in what religion has to teach -- and in a prayer that transcends religion and keeps our leaders on a higher course.

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