Pendleton City Council spoke at its work session Tuesday about opening future meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment of prayer, or both.
There was plenty of back-and-forth between councilors as they looked for common ground.
The debate about prayer, and a wider debate about the relationship between church and state, has been a part of the political scene in America since its founding. Heck, it was one of the reasons for its founding. Britain, after all, had established the Church of England as the official “religion of the realm.” Those who worshiped differently were not welcome.
Since the founding of the U.S., elected officials have handled public displays of religion in different ways. Many find it difficult to thread the needle between two sometimes competing principles: the desire to allow everyone the ability to freely practice their religion of choice, and the desire for everyone to not have someone else’s religion forced upon them.
In Umatilla County, most city councils do not start their meetings with a prayer. But the councils in Milton-Freewater and Pilot Rock do. According to their city leaders, they have heard no negative feedback about the practice so they continue to do it.
And that’s fine, in our opinion. We don’t see a need to pick arguments where none exist.
Yet we do wonder if the prayers keep some community members away, or at least make some residents feel more comfortable than others.
And that’s really at issue here. If a simple, inclusive invocation makes the council and the public comfortable and in the right frame of mind, who could argue against it?
Yet we know how hard that needle-threading can be, the big question is whether its worth the eventual problem that arises when the needle strays and someone gets pricked.
We think, when recommending the Pendleton council start meetings with a pledge and not a prayer, they came to the right decision. A pledge helps remind councilors of their shared duty and that they’re all on the same team. It’s useful.
A prayer is a more intimate moment, a personal conversation between you and your deity. And while some in the audience and on the dais may respond and appreciate that, others may not. And that’s fine — it speaks to the diversity and differences that make our country great.
Let us pray. Let us legislate. Let us do both separately.