Should local officials be able to start their meetings with prayers that endorse a particular faith? North Carolina State Rep. Michele Presnell thinks so, with one tiny caveat: the faith endorsed must be her own. When asked by one of her constituents whether she would be comfortable with a prayer to Allah before a public meeting, Presnell responded, “No, I do not condone terrorism.”
Despite the disturbing anti-Islamic bigotry in her statement, this illustrates the problem with these religion-specific prayers: someone is always going to be excluded or offended by them, and they can’t possibly account for everyone’s beliefs.
No one should be made to feel like a second-class citizen by his or her own local government, but for the past six years the Rowan County Board of Commissioners have sidelined and excluded Americans of other faiths through the systematic use of prayers specific to only one religion – Christianity.
As if that weren’t enough of a reason to stop or change the prayers, the practice is blatantly unconstitutional. The government generally can’t sponsor prayer at all, but the Supreme Court has carved out a narrow exception to this rule that allows legislative bodies, like a county board, to open meetings with invocations, so long as they do not promote one faith over others.