Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no issue with the state promoting religion when it decided in Town of Greece v. Galloway that opening legislative meetings with prayer is constitutional, even if that prayer is almost exclusively a Christian one. As I wrote after the case, the majority ruled in essence that “even though the prayers supported one specific religious view and those who attended were forced to listen and encouraged to join in, not allowing prayer would be a violation of freedom of speech. In other words, if the government is inviting prayer, it can’t prohibit it later on just because everyone is praying the same way with the same religious viewpoint.” Put in even a third way, just because only Christian prayer were being offered didn’t mean the government was supporting Christianity, and striking it down because there were only Christians offering prayers is a free speech violation.
But what happens when someone who isn’t Christian wants to do a prayer? Well, based on the ruling that should be just fine. The problem, however, is what if the city council changes their mind on letting a non-Christian speak? Now, we have issues.
That’s what occurred in Huntsville, Ala., when Blake Kirk, local Wiccan, was asked to give a prayer. Once word got out, the city council changed its mind. Ironically enough, it wouldn’t have been his first time doing the prayer, just the first time he did it after stating he was a Wiccan. “I gave the invocation earlier this year, at the time they did not ask me what my faith affiliation was, but when they did this time and I told them ‘Wiccan,’ I was told I was no longer invited to give it,” Blake told WHNT News 19.
It’s not entirely clear what would be so offensive about a Wiccan prayer, exactly. Wicca as a religion is nature based, a religion comprised of prayer and worshiping of the divine, and especially dedicated to non-violence, peace and harmony. That council members were not even able to discern that his previous prayer was of the Wiccan faith says everything you need to know about the nature of the objection itself. The council doesn’t have an issue with the words but that the person saying the words isn’t himself Christian.
According to AI.com, Kirk’s last prayer referred to “O gentle Goddess and Loving God,”and Kirk was called a “leader in earth-based spiritual communities.”
Now, however, Kirk is on indefinite hold, because identifying as a Wiccan is “too divisive” for the audience coming to the city council meeting. Kirk says that’s obvious religious discrimination. “I hope there are no adverse results about this for Frank (Broyles) or the Interfaith Mission Service,” Kirk said. “I expect the decision was made with an intent to do the right thing for what they thought were good reasons, but, whatever their intention, it becomes overt religious discrimination.”
The challenge in the Greece case was brought about by non-Christian faith members who felt uncomfortable that they had to listen to explicitly and exclusively Christian prayer in order to participate at all in the city council’s agenda. Yet, in Huntsville, when a non-Christian prayer was publicly promoted, and potential attendees balked because they felt that the Wiccan prayer would make them uncomfortable, the prayer was canceled and the invitation rescinded. Instead, the meeting started with a moment of silence.
If a moment of silence is the best way to ensure no one is offended, why isn’t that how every meeting starts? Why is a prayer injected into the city business at all?
Allegedly Kirk can return once some “education” has been conducted, according to the the Interfaith Mission Service, which is good news for the 75 percent of those residents who do not identify as Christian. If there has to be prayer, having diverse viewpoints is obviously the best way to go about it. Still, the council will have to at some point admit that they discriminated based on religion when they told Kirk he was no longer invited, even if it was just for that meeting.
Pretty sure that’s not something Jesus would do.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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