I know that it seems as if all we down here in Sussex County talk about is prayer here and prayer there.
We have become the county of the prayer law suit. Our county council has been sued over its former practice of holding an organized prayer during its monthly meetings and the Indian River School Board was also sued for holding an organized prayer during its meetings.
This post will center more around the IRSB issue, than the Sussex County Council suit. This is because I believe that the council has solved their issue by now saying a prayer before calling the meeting to order. This has not always been the case and is why they were sued.
I have made my opinion on this issue well-known. I feel that once these public meeting are called to order, the elected officials become a body government and no longer are acting as individuals and so, are no longer afforded the same rights as individuals.
Some might ask why is Frank Knotts again writing about something that both he and others have debated to the point of being obnoxious. Well because there are those on the other side of this issue who feel the need to continue to push the issue.
The Supreme Court of the United States recently declined to hear the case involving the IRSB. This means that the lower court ruling in the 3rd District Court remains the final word, at least for now. That ruling was that the IRSB must stop its long practice of holding an organized prayer during its meetings.
I would suggest that the IRSB solve this issue in the same way that the Sussex County Council has, say the prayer before calling the meeting to order. Simple, no?
Well it seems as if this would not suit some. There are those, both on the board and in the community, that feel that this is a cause worth fighting for.
I was listening to the Dan Gaffney Show on WGMD, live from Jimmy’s Grille, on Friday morning, when Dan called Robert Wilson to the microphone. Mr. Wilson is a member of the Indian River School Board. Mr. Wilson then proceeded to discuss the law suit and the ongoing attempt to mobilize the public in an effort to over turn the court decision.
Mr. Wilson stated that of course the Board itself would abide by the court’s decision, and would continue to seek legal recourse to over turn the ruling.
Mr. Wilson then spoke of the citizens who are now coming to the meetings to say prayers during the portion of the meeting set aside for public input. There are fifteen minutes at the beginning and fifteen minutes at the end of each meeting. During this time the public is free to address the Board about issues facing the school district, and it would seem to offer up prayers.
This act of so-called civil disobedience seems to have been organized by Sussex County’s self-appointed champion of prayer Eric Bodenweiser. Mr. Bodenweiser, who ran a failed campaign for state senate, who was vocal during many of the debates concerning the Sussex County Sheriff’s push for expanded powers and who was voted out of the Sussex County GOP Executive Committee after making what many saw as unethical statements about how the Sheriff’s issues could be solved by some backroom dealing, has become a fixture at the IRSB meeting and has been offering prayer during the public portion of those meetings.
Mr. Bodenweiser has been joined in this display by at least one other notable member of the Sussex County community, that would be Don Ayotte. Mr. Ayotte has also been vocal in his support of the Sheriff’s push for expanded powers. Mr. Ayotte has sought to hold offices within the Delaware and Sussex GOP. He is currently the Vice Chair of the 37th Rep. Dist. and has recently announced his intentions to run for the 3rd councilmatic dist. in Sussex against the Democrat Joan Deaver.
Let me state first, that I feel that anyone who wishes to use the public portion of these meetings to say a prayer are well within their first amendment rights of free speech. I only hope that they do not in their exercising of this right, prevent others with actual school board business from being heard.
Let me return to Mr. Wilson on WGMD for a moment, on Friday morning Mr. Wilson called on religious leaders in the community and the public itself, to please come out to the board meeting and to say a prayer during the public portion to show support for prayer and for the board.
To me this is a clear demonstration of what concerns myself and others about this type of blending of faith and government. Here we have an elected official more concerned with calling people to the meetings to pray, then to focus on issues facing the district. I have been listening to WGMD for many years now and I don’t recall Mr. Wilson taking the time to send out a message asking citizens to come to the meeting to discuss the PTA or to talk about any of the other issues facing school districts across the state. Yet he is motivated to call on people to come to the meeting and to monopolize the public portion of the meeting with prayer.
This is not to say that Mr. Wilson is not a good member of the board, it is to ask why he is more concerned with having the public attend now then it seems that he was in the past, at least he is now more vocal.
During his time on air Mr. Wilson stated that if anyone wanted more information on participating in this act of civil disobedience, that they could contact himself or Mr. Bodenweiser.
When asked by Dan Gaffeny if the board had considered continuing the organized prayer in spite of the court’s ruling, Mr. Wilson said that, “they” would probably send Mr. Christopher around to arrest them. So it would seem as if Mr. Wilson also thinks the sheriff has arrest powers.
This issue has been debated back and forth in many forums. Mostly it has been addressed from a constitutional perspective, in other words from the point of view of man’s law. Personally I believe that the Constitution is clear on this issue, that there is a clear intent within the First Amendment that the Founders intended for there to be no blending of faith and government.
Of course there are those who will say that since the word separation does not actually appear in the text, then there is no such intent. Okay, I disagree and we could argue that again if you like.
However, I feel that there is a higher authority that also warned us against blending faith and government. That would be Jesus.
Of course we all know of the “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s”.
I happen to feel that Matthew 6 is very relevant to this issue, it seems to be speaking directly to us on this issue.
Look to Matthew 6:19-21;
19Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Or maybe 6:24;
24No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Of course the most telling verses on this issue from Matthew come in 6:1-8;
1Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
So I ask, are those who are seeking to institute this organized prayer during public meetings, really serving and holding to the word of our Saviour? Or are they merely seeking to draw attention to their own earthly desires?
In my opinion the idea that we must speak a prayer through a microphone, or that we must say our prayers out loud and in some organized group to be heard by God, is insulting to God and borders on heresy. My understanding of the Gospel is that God knows my needs even before I do. I do not pray for outcomes, I pray to give thanks, and I certainly do not dare to tell God what it is I need.
All would be served better if we would spend more time in silent prayer for our own souls and work to make the world surrounding us better one soul at a time, our own. If we do this, then all that we do and come into contact with will benefit.