The Indiana General Assembly opened a can of worms with pre-session prayers a couple of years ago that clearly weren't generic enough to cover a multitude of faiths. And now those worms are back on the shelf, in a sense, with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to review a case dealing with prayer at local government meetings.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. wants to take a pre-emptive strike against a possible lawsuit and end the practice of prayers before Hammond City Council meetings.
"I'm afraid one day Hammond is going to get sued for violating the First Amendment, and those lawsuits are very expensive," McDermott said.
The City Council meetings generally begin with a prayer by Councilman Anthony Higgs, and McDermott said he has always "felt uncomfortable" about this practice.
It's not that McDermott's own faith is at issue. He's a devout Catholic. However, he's also a firm believer in the First Amendment prohibition against establishing a state religion. That's an important distinction.
Government is of the people, by the people and for the people. It is not the Lord's government, even though many Americans are fond of asking His blessings on their leaders.
Hammond has already seen civil rights litigation that could have been avoided. In 2011, Michelle Bahus and Samuel Dykstra sued the city to overturn an ordinance prohibiting guns on city property. State law rendered that ordinance obsolete, but the City Council refused to change it.
It would be prudent for the Hammond City Council and other government agencies to end the practice of opening meetings with a prayer.
Pray before the meeting is called to order, meet in a caucus beforehand or follow any number of other ways to avoid excluding or annoying anyone at the meeting.
Remember, this is about doing the public's business, not the Lord's. Individuals, not the government, are to serve their Maker.
Let the people in the audience say their prayers or perhaps mutter curses, as they see fit, on their own.