Looking for help on explaining to others why praying before a public meeting should not happen.

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Discussion by: daniellesebire
Hello

I was hoping to get some help in developing some articulate points on why praying before a public meeting is inappropriate. I live in Guernsey  (Channel Island in UK)and the lords prayer is said as part of the procedure of regional (parish) meetings. I personally found this quite upsetting that this was part of the process – I had turned up to hear about parish developments and was quite shocked when everyone started to prey. Just to clarify a parish is our way of breaking up different areas of the island into local authorities. They receive taxes and carry out services like rubbish collection, making sure hedges are cut back and inspecting streams.
The counter arguments I will hear for this is that the church is part of the parish. This is true – they have a representative present at the meeting and their matters are interwoven  through the parish. I will also be told this is part of the local culture – this is the way it has always been done and changing it would mean loosing part of our heritage. 
I believe that due to the older demographic of the usual attendees and make up of the parish representatives this is not seen as unusual – their generation has been more involved with the church. I think they are good people that want the best for the community but just need having their outlook tweaked on this front tweaked a bit.
What do I do or say to help change attitudes and the procedures performed? I could do with some fresh perspective. 
Thank you

38 COMMENTS

  1. This is about separation of church and state right? State in this case being the government funded local authorities.
    A good reason to keep this separate is that the members may not be Christian, so acts like praying will put off non-praying communities from becoming involved. i.e. it encourages elitism to some extent.

    The problem is that a parish is more than an area that contains a church, it originally was a practicing community built around that church. So prayer has probably just been a tradition from the start. It might help if they changed the word parish to constituencies or districts or something, to make it clear that religion is not the central theme.

  2. Prayer: talking to yourself, and thinking it will make a difference.

    These days, not everyone is a christian, so using the “lords prayer” could be deemed offensive or exclusionary. And using “that’s the way it’s always been done” is a baseless argument; slavery was “always done” too.

    If they insist on prayers before meetings, go make yourself a cuppa / raid the fridge / check your e-mails, while those who want to mumble to themselves.

  3. You can bring in people who practice different beliefs. Like a group of Wiccans chanting spells or Native American people dancing for rain and delay the meeting for as long as you can to illustrate the fact that these pointless rituals do nothing but waste time, because old people are stubborn and superstitious, so I doubt that any verbal argument or “articulate point” will sway them.

  4. I agree with #2. At this point, I would probably just play with my phone or something similar. ( perhaps check into this site). Eventually, others will probably join you in quiet, non- participation. Hopefully the practice will just die out of its own accord without any blood being shed.

  5. Unless you want to wait till Britain gets round to disestablishing the church and separating church and state, you can (if you have not already done so) start networking for support on this issue. Given that your parish is what people in many parts of the English-speaking world would call a borough, your parish council is a local government body and, as such, will have on it people who do not belong to the established church or to any form of Christianity or to any religion at all. Beginning a parish meeting with a Christian prayer is disrespectful of those members who are not Christians. If there were any need for the prayer – if for example the parish building were struck and damaged by lightning every time a meeting were held without beginning with the prayer – people might readily acknowledge it and continue the practice, but if no such need exists and the meeting actually causes offence to non-Christian members, there is ample reason to discontinue the prayer. When you have some idea of how much support you have for this, you can raise the matter in the appropriate manner at the parish meeting and have it discussed and voted on. My hunch is that the motion is not likely to be carried on the first attempt, but you may succeed on a second or third attempt after more networking and promoting of secularism. Good luck!

  6. Praying; trying to communicate to a celestial,imaginary friend and making excuses for this imaginary friend when the prayers aren’t answered. Their must be non christian attendees at the meetings what do they think about their taxes being spent to the facilitate the meeting that dose not represent their believes?, try use them to influence change, the fact that we live in multi religious communitys is more the need for separation of church and state.

  7. Isn’t your question kind of backwards? :)
    To me you come across as saying: “I think this is wrong, please tell me why”.
    To me it would make more sense to base your views on facts, where you would start out by weighing the pros and cons and then choose your position.
    Otherwise you have taken a stand and are only looking for the views that support it.

    Try Googling “Confirmation bias” and “Texas sharpshooter fallacy” :)

    Kind regards – Jakob

  8. How about suggesting that the official time of the meeting be set 10 mins later than usual and having an informal 10 mins beforehand for those who are interested in praying?

    Alternatively, sit there noisily eating doritos and sighing loudly during the prayer.

  9. “The counter arguments I will hear for this is that the church is part of the parish.”

    So, presumably, is the pub. You may therefore feel entitled to bring along a pint of foaming ale to drink while they witter away at Magic Dad.

  10. In reply to #8 by Jakob Krarup:

    Isn’t your question kind of backwards? :)
    To me you come across as saying: “I think this is wrong, please tell me why”.
    To me it would make more sense to base your views on facts, where you would start out by weighing the pros and cons and then choose your position.
    Otherwise you have taken a stand and are only looking for the views that support it.

    Try Googling “Confirmation bias” and “Texas sharpshooter fallacy” :)

    Actually you seem to have it backwards with projected confirmation bias, – if it is not clear why it would be inappropriate and ill-mannered for Xtians present, to instigate a Xtian prayer – at a public meeting convened with people of other religions or no religion, to discuss local political issues at a Parish Council meeting.

    @OP – The counter arguments I will hear for this is that the church is part of the parish. This is true – they have a representative present at the meeting and their matters are interwoven through the parish.

    There are probably dance-halls with rock-bands in the parish too! Perhaps 10 minutes of Heavy Metal would equally qualify as an introduction !! -

    Perhaps everyone could go head down backside up facing Mecca for 10 minutes?

    • OR – meetings could just stick to the relevant business agenda -

    even if historically the area is based on geographical parish boundaries.

  11. In the US the answer would be “because it is unconstitutional”. Also, the people “pray”… The church itself might “prey”… but this is for another discussion.

    Offer to lead them in a prayer from another religion. Offer to lead them in the Noodles prayer:

    Our Pasta, who “Arghh” in the colander, Swallowed be thy sauce. Thy serving come, Thy strands be wrung, On forks as they are on spoons. Give us this day our garlic bread, And forgive us our starchiness, As we swashbuckle, splice the main-brace and cuss, And lead us not into Kraft parmessan, But deliver us from Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, For thine are Meatballs, and the beer, and the strippers, for ever and ever. R’Amen.

  12. STOP please do not follow Nitya’s advice! Checking your phone is undoubtedly a productive use of your time but it will look like you’re praying, never bow your head in the name of doG!!

    :-)

    It’s also hard for posters to comment on the very specific and strange relationship between Guersay and their world. Separation of church and state is a clever idea, especially if the former king was abusing it, but the UK has an official church so no go there. I’m also not sure whether the UK church even applies although I would imagine it does??

    Given your murky jurisdiction I don’t think anyone outside of Guersay would be able to help, sorry.

    In reply to #4 by Nitya:

    I agree with #2. At this point, I would probably just play with my phone or something similar. ( perhaps check into this site). Eventually, others will probably join you in quiet, non- participation. Hopefully the practice will just die out of its own accord without any blood being shed.

  13. In reply to #9 by Mister T:

    How about suggesting that the official time of the meeting be set 10 mins later than usual and having an informal 10 mins beforehand for those who are interested in praying?

    This one seems like the most reasonable to me.

  14. What does this even mean?

    In reply to #14 by MickeyDroy:

    Well obviously if you are there to take the atheist side in a debate on the existence of God then praying gives them a very unfair advantage. You should pray too.

  15. Separation of church and state is not good enough? You could always just ask for a moment of silence instead. Everyone knows that means pray time, but at least it isn’t directly favoring one religion.

  16. Firstly, the suggestion that the Meeting start 10 minutes later after the prayers – or minutes of silence – gives the faithful official control over everyone’s time, which is still wrong. Let them start prayers 10 minutes before the formal meeting – and nobody else has to be silent or pay any attention to them while preparing for real communal business.

    Secondly, these people are gathered on their own time to do district business – and to be productive. Since prayer has never been shown to be productive in any experiments, why should any – in this case non-xtian – participants have their valuable time wasted?

  17. Hello Danielle,
    Your best logical arguments are likely to have no effect with people who are religiously motivated. I’m assuming these prayers are spoken aloud and that you would have no objection to people praying silently before a meeting? I recommend that you cite Jesus’ words on prayer that it should be done silently, not aloud. Matthew 6:5 and 6: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

  18. The anti-theist rhetoric is fine, but how constructive is it really going to be? Ten minutes for prayer/coffee/showing up late has a solid chance of working. Walking in boldly and letting everyone know why they’re wrong and why they should change the way they’ve done things for decades probably won’t; it’s likely just going to make them pissed. (American ‘pissed’, not British ‘pissed’)

  19. In reply to #20 by CdnMacAtheist:

    Firstly, the suggestion that the Meeting start 10 minutes later after the prayers – or minutes of silence – gives the faithful official control over everyone’s time, which is still wrong. Let them start prayers 10 minutes before the formal meeting – and nobody else has to be silent or pay any attention to them while preparing for real communal business.

    They should also do it in a separate room. The pre-meeting time is needed for the distribution of reports and papers, and for officers / chair to consult on the format and timetabling of the agenda – to accommodate any late items or other business – if people’s time is being used effectively.

    Secondly, these people are gathered on their own time to do district business – and to be productive. Since prayer has never been shown to be productive in any experiments, why should any – in this case non-xtian – participants have their valuable time wasted?

    Exactly. It is simply abuse of a public position to preach to a captive audience. who have better things to do with their time. If there is not enough business to fill the agenda – they should have less meetings. It is however, more likely that important items are being squeezed out through misuse of time, or that the chair is too incompetent to introduce the meeting with relevant opening remarks.

  20. @OP I live in Guernsey (Channel Island in UK)

    Rachel Stensness
    23

    http://www.acses.org.uk/publicfile/filename/2/ParishCouncilToolkitUpdate-Full.pdf

    Because I am from N.Z I needed a brief look on U.K councils policy, Religious prayer before a meeting is not recorded in the above link, so therefore I would interject at meetings that a prayer is inappropriate and also very inconsiderate of other religious or non religious points of view.

    Guernsey as one of the small UK Channel Islands, is partially independent and has some separate laws to mainland UK, so may “do its own thing” to a certain extent. It has been used as a tax-haven.

  21. In reply to #26 by Alan4discussion:

    @OP I live in Guernsey (Channel Island in UK)

    Maybe contact the National Secular Society who will help you with this

    http://www.secularism.org.uk/council-prayers.html

    The High Court in the UK ruled against prayers being required by Councils. I am not sure of the legalities of how this would apply in Guernsey.

    If you can’t win this a stop gap is to try and argue for it to be replaced by a minute or two of silent reflection on the important public office about to be undertaken. You can make this argument on the grounds of the Lords Prayer being discriminatory against other religions as others have suggested.

    Michael

  22. In reply to #1 by conmeo:

    This is about separation of church and state right?

    But there is no separation in the UK. Bishops hold seats in the House of Lords and there is an established Church of England with the Queen in charge.

    Michael

  23. In reply to #4 by Nitya:

    I agree with #2. At this point, I would probably just play with my phone or something similar. ( perhaps check into this site). Eventually, others will probably join you in quiet, non- participation. Hopefully the practice will just die out of its own accord without any blood being shed.

    When I was at school (well before mobile phones were invented) we had a hand motion we would perform under the desk out of view of everybody but our fellow students. It was used as a comment on the person wanking on at the front of the class. Perhaps this would be an appropriate gesture.

    Michael

  24. “They receive taxes and carry out services like rubbish collection, making sure hedges are cut back and inspecting streams.”

    The purpose of the meeting is to discuss topics in REALITY that everyone can see. Praying to some character who only exists in their head is like taking a minute before the meeting to plead to your own brain that you make the right decisions in the meeting. It is an off-topic waste of eveyone’s time. Think about all the different types of ojections there would be it they prayed to Thor instead. The same objections apply to their own stupid version.

  25. But that’s not what I suggested. The official time of the meeting would be moved forward 10 minutes from its usual slot and run for the usual duration, nobody would be expected to turn up before that time. Only those who wished to pray beforehand could come along early and do so, on their own time. Non-theists would only need to be there for the official business. Think of it as a separate meeting. No one’s time is wasted or controlled.

    I don’t know, I was just trying to find a solution that worked for everyone rather than create conflict.

    In reply to #20 by CdnMacAtheist:

    Firstly, the suggestion that the Meeting start 10 minutes later after the prayers – or minutes of silence – gives the faithful official control over everyone’s time, which is still wrong. Let them start prayers 10 minutes before the formal meeting – and nobody else has to be silent or pay any attention to them while preparing for real communal business.

    Secondly, these people are gathered on their own time to do district business – and to be productive. Since prayer has never been shown to be productive in any experiments, why should any – in this case non-xtian – participants have their valuable time wasted?

  26. It is a form of controlling or bullying. It is saying: “you follow my rules from the start” or “you are one of us, you conform to us”.

    In addition, it adds to the Christian view that we are a Christian state and all Christians at heart because we follow Christian activities. We celebrate Christmas, we take 2 days off for Easter, we say “my God!” and we pray before meetings. So we are all Christians.

  27. In reply to #32 by Mister T:

    But that’s not what I suggested. The official time of the meeting would be moved forward 10 minutes from its usual slot and run for the usual duration, nobody would be expected to turn up before that time. Only those who wished to pray beforehand could come along early and do so, on their own time. Non-theists would only need to be there for the official business. Think of it as a separate meeting. No one’s time is wasted or controlled.

    I don’t know, I was just trying to find a solution that worked for everyone rather than create conflict.

    In reply to #20 by CdnMacAtheist:

    Firstly, the suggestion that the Meeting start 10 minutes later after the prayers – or minutes of silence – gives the faithful official control over everyone’s time, which is still wrong. Let them start prayers 10 minutes before the formal meeting – and nobody else has to be silent or pay any attention to them while preparing for real communal business.

    Secondly, these people are gathered on their own time to do district business – and to be productive. Since prayer has never been shown to be productive in any experiments, why should any – in this case non-xtian – participants have their valuable time wasted?

    Hi Mister T.

    I understand what you mean, but my point was, why should the official Meeting start time change for anybody. If people want to take part in sectarian rituals, they should be separated from – and not affect – the official business during its regular time slot. Mac.

  28. Mister T
    32 -
    I don’t know, I was just trying to find a solution that worked for everyone rather than create conflict.

    That is what theist missionaries prey on.
    With assertive arrogance and ill-manners, they inflict their superstitions on others , expect the others to respond with consideration and good manners, and play the victimised martyr, if they are met with an equivalent confrontation, rather than subservient acquiescence.

    They demand that everyone backs off from THEIR challenge, and nobody responds by answering and confronting it! (Ooooo ! Strident responders)
    In the past they have had sufficient power and numbers to discriminate, persecute, or even kill dissenters (and still do in some theocracies), but with increasing numbers of people freeing themselves from woo, they are now fighting a rearguard action.

    Of course theology has always been fighting an intellectual rearguard action!
    Science is about widening and pushing forward frontiers of knowledge. – Theology is about dogmatically defending old, out-dated, long refuted, ideas.

    Of course in a public area where democratic representatives are standing up for the interests of the electors, a demand from a religious or political faction, to dictate their irrational ideologies or dogmas, should be resisted where possible by those representing other interests.

    Other representatives should certainly NOT be discouraged from attending by their manoeuvrings, or allow themselves to be bullied into submission by sectarian factions.

  29. Give them some credit. They don’t, I’m sure, let their religious views intrude on their decision making. Religious people establish a mindset of honesty and unselfishness in this way. The Lord’s Prayer is not an advertisement for Christianity or a tool for brainwashing. If you’re worried that it might convert you, your atheism isn’t very secure. If it offends you, you need to ask why. I just use the moment for personal, secular reflection, not drastically different from facing up to my own “trespasses” and resolving not to be too judgmental about those “who trespass against” me.

  30. Find out which direction faces Mecca. at the first strains of ‘Our Father’ plop down a mat and scream at the top of your lungs, “Allah Akbar” and continue bobbing yourself up and down for the duration.

    Next week … “Namyo horengei Kiu” … Buddhist.

    The following week … Do you know any Yiddish???

    etc.

  31. Really interesting question. To be honest, at the present time in your area there is not a great deal you can do, unless you put an article in your local paper. The plus side of doing that will be; that you may gain support because it just takes one person to plant a seed of rational thought that others of the same mind respond to. However, on the negative side you may find yourself ‘at odds ‘ with the concensus.

    Of course, from my personal point of view…..i back you up 100%. Use recent literature and case studies on this topic before you put your argument forward.

    Anyhoo. Let us know how it pans out.

  32. This is an interesting question. Here in the USA we have laws against the mixing of religion with the state. This of course seems to make no difference. This whole question of which religion will be allowed, will any religion be allowed, will any atheism be allowed is really very complex. Supposedly, here in America by our constitution all religions are allowed and the lack of religion is allowed. No religion is to have any influence over the state. Great idea but it just doesn’t work. We do have a lot of different religions that are very tolerant of each other. They are though all based on Christianity. Muslims are hated by most. Atheists are hated the most. I usually keep my Atheism to myself unless I am in a situation where I feel it would be tolerated. In the area where I live the city Commissioners had a prayer before each meeting. A group of people objected to this and threatened to sue. This got the attention of the Commissioner as it was a winnable case since we do have laws against this. So as a compromise they said they would have a different religion give the prayer each meeting and even included an atheist to speak. Well all went well until the atheist spoke. The atheist gave a very brief talk about mankind becoming more tolerant of each other and caring for each other etc. It was a very nice little comment. Everybody ( except a couple of people who came with the atheist) in the room got up and walked out and would come back in until the atheist was gone. This included the commissioners. I had to ask myself why is it this way. There has to be something in humans that make them need religion. Fear of death? Part of it is. That I am sure. A god gene? I doubt that. I really don’t know. Be interesting to see what others think.

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