Saturday, October 17, 2015

An unspoken "prayer" for Cleveland County

My email to the Cleveland County School Board...

Dear Chairman Glover and Members of the Board,

I commend the Board for taking a prudent and cautious approach to the contentious issue of invocations at your October 12 meeting, and I strongly urge you to reject any future proposals to implement a policy allowing invocations. Two U.S. circuit courts of appeals have expressly ruled that school board prayers are unconstitutional – a view which is shared by the ACLU and several other religious liberty watchdog groups (and probably some Cleveland County residents as well). While these are always fact-sensitive cases the courts recognize that the presence of students at school board meetings creates “an atmosphere that contains many of the same indicia of coercion and involuntariness that the Supreme Court has recognized elsewhere in its school prayer jurisprudence” (Doe v. Indian River School District).

As a sixth generation North Carolinian (Catawba County native) and a secular humanist (member of the Hickory Humanist Alliance), I suppose I represent one of those non-Christians that some of you fear giving a "platform and a podium” to speak to your children. I signed up on behalf of the Hickory Humanist Alliance (and a few of our members and supporters in Lincoln County) to deliver a solemn and respectful secular humanist invocation for the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners following their adoption of a non-discriminatory invocation policy in May, but they quickly switched to a moment of silence after a Muslim resident delivered the first non-Christian invocation on behalf of the Foothills Interfaith Alliance. So I never had the opportunity to deliver our invocation in Lincoln County.

A. Philip Randolph once said: "Prayer is not one of our remedies; it depends on what one is praying for. We consider prayer nothing more than a fervent wish; consequently, the merit and worth of a prayer depend upon what the fervent wish is." My fervent wish is that the Cleveland County School Board follow the lead of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners (moment of silence) and that interfaith dialogue can help heal the wounds created by the current kerfuffle in your community. To that end I extend to you the secular humanist invocation that was prepared for, but never spoken in, Lincoln County. My hope is the same for Cleveland County.

As this Board convenes to do the important business of local government I ask you to lift your heads, to open your eyes, and to open your hearts. We are reminded that in our differences there is great strength. We do not all agree on everything. Yet we are linked by our common humanity and our shared origin. When we work together to move our community forward in a spirit of mutual respect and common decency, we showcase what is best about ourselves. There is one thing on which we all agree: We share the goal of making this community the best place it can be. I call on this Board to unite here today around that noble aim and common purpose, and I appeal to you to take care to ensure that all of your decisions are inspired by compassion and guided by knowledge.
William Keener

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