Speaking before the Roswell City Council

John C. Snider speaks to the Roswell City Council, 03/29/2010

As I reported a few days ago, the city council in my adopted city of Roswell, Georgia recently rejected a proposal to begin council meetings with prayer.  The proposal was floated by councilwoman Betty Price (who I have discovered is a bored emptynester and the wife of conservative US congressman Tom Price).

The city council meets on the first and third Monday of each month.  If a fifth Monday occurs, meetings offer an open microphone to any citizens who wish to address the council.  Despite the fact that council members reported constituent opposition to council prayers by roughly 4-to-1, rumor had it that councilwoman Price was encouraging people to use the open mic as an opportunity to hold the council’s feet to the fire.  If that were true, no way was I going to allow the council meeting to be packed by overzealous Christians, with nary a word of dissent.  So Allison and I showed up.

To my surprise, only three people (including yours truly) wished to speak out on this subject, and it was 2-to-1 against council prayer!  After the meeting, two or three people approached me to offer words of thanks and encouragement.  For what it’s worth, Betty Price did not look at me during my statement.

Here’s my prepared statement:

Mr. Mayor; Council Members,

Thank you for the opportunity to address you tonight.  I wanted to share my thoughts with you on the recent proposal to open City Council meetings with prayer.

My name is John Snider. I have been a resident of Roswell for nearly ten years.  One of the things I have loved most about Roswell is the low-key, low-drama, business-like way in which our city council has conducted its affairs.  Roswell has stood head-and-shoulders above the embarrassing shenanigans we hear about from our neighbors in Cobb County (where the theory of evolution is suspicious), or from our state’s governor (who thinks he can scare up a thundershower by praying openly like the man on the street corner in Matthew 6:5).  [Note: I wanted to say “the hypocrite on the street corner,” but Allison advised that that might be too provocative.  Perhaps she was right.]

While it may be true that prayer before government proceedings is a longstanding tradition in much of America, that doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it Constitutional, and it doesn’t make it useful.  And those of us who prefer that the Council remain neutral on matters of religion are not unpatriotic, nor are we anti-Christian.

I know you won’t find the phrase “separation of church and state” in the Constitution, but neither will you find the phrase “America is a Christian nation.”  But the Courts have overwhelming upheld the former, and rejected the latter.

This nation’s Founders were abundantly aware of the dangers of sectarian division, so they created a thoroughly secular Constitution.

I might remind you that Jesus himself supported separation of church and state when he said “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Jesus also said, “But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.”  I don’t think he mentioned anything about prayer before the city council.

I think the Council got it right the first time when you decided to drop this issue.  Prayer is an activity best handled at the individual level.  Let’s not risk turning citizen against citizen, or involving the city in a costly lawsuit that it will surely lose.

Thanks for your time.

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