A correspondent, perhaps inspired by the fact that the city council will once again take up the question of whether to open its meetings with prayer, sent me the following link to news stories reported by a Phoenix, Arizona, television station: http://www.fox10phoenix.com/news/arizona-news/83145282-story#. It seems that the Phoenix city council invites religious leaders to open its meetings with prayer, and will soon call upon Satanists to do so too. How can this be?
Well, apparently the city council keeps a list of religious leaders to open its council meetings, and a Satanist has signed up to be part of the rotation, and the city can’t discriminate against her through exclusion. As the Satanist puts it: “You know this is about the issue, it’s about religious liberty and democratic plurality.” And the city attorney agrees: “A representative of the Satanic Temple recently signed up to pray at the next available formal Phoenix City Council meeting. The prayer will occur on February 17, 2016. Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s direction, the city cannot dictate religious viewpoints or the content of a prayer. In addition, government may not exclude a denomination or a religion from praying under these circumstances.”
I bring this all up because the issue of prayer is once again on the agenda for the city council’s upcoming meeting. In the past the idea of including a variety of religious leaders in public prayer leadership in Stephenville has been raised as well, especially in 2000 when candidates for membership on the ISD debated how to include prayer at Friday night football games, and most recently in 2005 when the issue was last before the council. While opening a council session with a prayer is apparently not unconstitutional, restricting prayers to those of a particular denomination may well be, as both the Satanist and the Phoenix city attorney seem to think. For that reason, Stephenville ISD candidates in 2000 said they were open to any and all forms of prayer, at least according to statements made at a candidates forum I attended. What’s happening in Phoenix shows what that can lead to.
Now I don’t know who’s out there in the community who might want to lead a council session in an opening prayer. I’ve never heard of any Satanists in Stephenville. I do know that years ago there was a practicing witch (she called herself a Wiccan) enrolled at Tarleton, but where she is now and whether she belonged to a coven or was just freelancing, I cannot say.
But given the city council’s current and desired spending policies, a little witchcraft or black magic may be needed. After all, the council is mandated to increase spending on welfare for business—oops!!—I meant economic development—without raising taxes, and it wants to spend more on a laundry list of other ideas I’ve listed in previous columns, especially a multipurpose center.
And let’s not forget all the studies it’s addicted to. In comments made by a current council member I posted on my Facebook blog, Crosswise on Politics (found here: https://www.facebook.com/mlcpolitics/), I counted about $110,000 worth of studies mentioned. Once the council runs out of things to cut from the budget and the economy refuses to grow fast enough, where will it get its money? A little voodoo, anyone?
Of course, the city council can solve its money woes if it simply lives within its means. And it can avoid problems from practitioners of witchcraft, voodoo, Satanism, or constitutional law if it abandons its silly idea of public prayer and simply follows Jesus’s instructions in Mathew, Chapter 6. But where’s the fun in that?
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.