Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: For some common sense in high places, let us pray

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, please grant the strength to complete this column within the designated length. We implore you to protect us against the scourge of typos. Thank you once again for creating the blessings of spell check. We beseech you to help invoke the appropriate mix of metaphors, similes and snarkiness. And we look to your wisdom to avoid undue amounts of commas and dashes, which we confess we do so have a soft spot for employing. Amen.

Our first reading comes from the gospel of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled by a 5-4 vote in favor of the town officials of Greece, N.Y., to begin public meetings with a prayer delivered by the chaplain of the month.

The issue before the justices revolved around the objection on the part of some of the residents of Greece that the opening prayer always was distinctly Christian, often flirting with sectarian proselytizing to the exclusion of other faiths such as Islam or Judaism.

In his opinion essentially giving the green light to Greece to conduct a virtual 700 Club moment before the start of a public meeting, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued such supplications are largely "ceremonial" in nature to underscore the solemnity of the government proceeding.

Solemnity? In government? Kennedy needs to attend a Hillsborough County School Board meeting, which is about as solemn as a Three Stooges pie fight.

Even dissenting Justice Elena Kagan does not oppose the tradition of an opening prayer before public meetings. But she did raise a valid point that the Greece decision creates a slippery slope where local governments could now have legal cover to exclude other non-Christian faiths from being invited to offer a brief homily.

The city mandarins of Greece insisted they had tried and tried to invite clerics of other faiths to deliver the opening prayer, but it seems rabbis and imams are rarer finds in the area than unicorns.

I've spent a better part of my scribbling career sitting in city council meetings, county commission meetings and other government gatherings. Although I don't consider myself particularly devout, the opening prayers have never bothered me very much. As long as no one breaks out the snakes and speaks in tongues before a Tampa Variance Review Board, what's the harm?

Aside from the fact hardly anyone pays much attention to the prayer, it would seem the liturgical debate over the pre-meeting entreaties to the Almighty is missing a larger point.

Seeking divine guidance over official gatherings has been a staple of governance since Moses was in knickers. But for all the hosannas, all the hallelujahs, all the paeans to piety, it would seem hardly any of it has had much effect.

You can lead politicians to the pulpit, but you can't make them drink the holy water.

They pray like there's no tomorrow in Tallahassee before legislative sessions. And yet before the echoes of the benediction have subsided, the Legislature thinks nothing of denying 1 million needy residents Medicaid coverage or making it easier to shoot one another, or turning the Lord's creation of Florida's springs into toxic dumps. How godly is that?

Our elected officials may pray to God, but they kneel in obeisance to the Capitol's money-changing lobbyists.

They are praying machines in Washington as they shut down the government, oppose an increase in the minimum wage, vote more than 50 times to prevent Americans from getting health insurance, plot to scuttle Common Core education standards, oppose equal pay for women and take vacations while millions of Americans wait to have their unemployment benefits restored.

So much for Matthew 25:40: "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Who has the time, or the inclination, for all these naive prayers when tribute must be rendered unto a Koch brother to be named later?

County commissions pray for guidance, too, just before rubber stamping the latest real estate development. Who knew heaven was a strip mall?

You could argue that the most inefficient thing in government is the very prayer offered up in the vain hope that elected officials will rise above petty political interests, the pernicious influence of campaign contributions and the exercise of craven ambition to do the right thing by the people they are elected to serve.

Let us pray. Blessed are those who survive the hypocrisy of faux sanctimonious politicians. Amen, brother.

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