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Empathy? Inclusion? That’s Bully Talk in Christian Rapid City

At least one person spoke some sense at last night's Rapid City city hall prayer meeting:

Only two of the 15 people who testified Monday opposed the prayers before council meetings. Cole Bedford, a senior at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, asked the council to have a moment of silence in lieu of a sectarian prayer.

"This is not a challenge to anyone's faith. It's an appeal to your empathy" said Bedford, an atheist who grew up in Sturgis attending church. He added that in a predominantly Christian region, it's important for a non-Christian to know they have an equal voice in government, a message that holding religious prayers does not send [Aaron Orlowski, "Council Voices Wholehearted Support for Prayers," Rapid City Journal, 2013.02.05].

Ah, but all that talk of empathy and inclusion just makes Bedford a bully:

The council vowed without exception to fight back against Freedom From Religion, dubbing the group outsider bullies.

"I don't like being bullied. I don't like my children being bullied," council member Chad Lewis said. "I don't think (praying) hurts anybody. I don't see where it's actually offending anybody" [Orlowski, 2013.02.05].

If praying doesn't hurt anybody, I invite Councilman Lewis to come watch me open my French class in my public classroom with some atheist exhortation, or perhaps with a hearty "Allahu akbar!" We'll see how that pricks his majoritarian-Christian conscience.

Encouraged by promises of financial support from citizens reveling in their public pocketbook piety, the Rapid City City Council voted 6 to 3 to draft a policy on prayer at meetings, a move that will constitute local government officially establishing a religion. Freedom from Religion Foundation, get ready to wrestle.


  1. Stan Gibilisco 2013.02.05

    In my opinion, governments at all levels should remain agnostic in regards to church, religion, God, and all that.

    When organized religions and the state mix, trouble results.

    I would like to be the fly on the wall, Cory, should you make the exhortation "Allahu akbar!" anywhere in France right about now.

    Especially in a French school room.

    In my opinion, all organized religions constitute cults.

    Also in my opinion, atheism (as opposed to agnosticism) is a religion, but not an organized one.

    Anyway, I find it rather sad that our politicians have to quarrel over stuff like this.

    Poverty on the res ... the threat of general recession and worse looming day by day ... corporate abuses ... government corruption ... Seems to me that more pressing issues present themselves.

    But noooo ...

    Prayer in a political setting gives me the creeps.

    That said, I pray to Christ every evening.

    Go figure. Left brain, right brain. Whatever.

    Keep all religions out of politics, say I. Even disorganized religions such as atheism.

    A person's religion (or not) is her or his own private business.

  2. Donald Pay 2013.02.05

    People like Lewis have no business being a government official. What a pathetic whiny fool he shows himself to be, and a fool who goes against Jesus' teaching about when and how to pray. So, I hope he feels good that he is violating both the Constitution and the words of his Savior.

    Still, if the Common Council is going to have this little show of pretend piety at least there should be some policy that sets some limits on what the person can say. As I understand Freedom From Religion's position, they have some suggestions for specific policies that might make such invocations skate just below the level that court's would find unconstitutionality.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.05

    Good point, Stan. The French, conservative and socialist alike, take their secularism very seriously.

  4. Roger Elgersma 2013.02.05

    The constitution says that the government should make no law about religion. So this committee to study it might be unconstitutional. The constitution gives us freedom of religion and is not to decide how much of that freedom to grant or to limit.
    That said, it is the responsibility of the government to govern fairly for all citizens. And to not limit their religion even if they are a minority. Their own practicing it does not determine what your religion should be.
    As a Christian I am totally against forcing someone to be a Christian since that makes for fake Christians. There is nothing worse than fake Christians. Even the Bible says that God would spew them out of his mouth.
    If kids were to never see any religion in school or government, they would learn by example that the world goes by without religion. Religion makes enough difference in the world that teaching that attitude would give the children an unrealistic view. But to see both Christian, atheist and other religions and views of the world, would teach them not to assume any one of the above and they would have to think about what they would believe themself and then when they make that decision they would be more sure of it. Mitt Romney grew up with mostly Mormon influence and when he was in France being a missionary he started to rethink and wonder if he really believed what he was saying. This thought process should have been done before he went out telling others. To tell someone your religion without knowing why you believe it is silly.

  5. grudznick 2013.02.05

    These people with their god or gods who insist on jamming them down other's throats best take note of what is happening to Mr. Dr. Hottaling in Fort Pierre and what happened to Mr. Howie about 3 years ago.

    Keep your god out of my mouth.

  6. Rorschach 2013.02.06

    Are they praying "in Jesus's name"? Is even Stan Adelstein unwelcome at their city council meetings?

  7. PNR 2013.02.06

    The Constitution by the way, says Congress shall make no law, not that the Rapid City Council shall not. It's courts which have said the latter.

    I understand the student's request, and I think it has merit - a moment of silence so those who wish may pray and those who do not may do whatever is no bad compromise.

    But people get their backs up, draw lines in the sand, make bold pronouncements to fight to the death over this or that, and what is the result? Is Christianity advanced by this? Hardly. Instead it becomes a hollow mockery of itself, and many who might otherwise be open to it now get their backs up, draw lines in the sand, make bold pronouncements to fight to the death...

    There is no commandment to the effect that "Thou shalt pray before government meetings." Jesus did not say, "Unless ye pray before council meetings ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."

    I have no problem with praying before city council meetings. On the whole, it's probably a good thing. But it is a city council meeting, not a church council meeting. Some patience, forbearance, and accommodation towards one's fellow citizens - in the name of Jesus, even - is appropriate.

  8. LK 2013.02.06


    Well said.

    If you're not careful, some folks will start calling you a liberal.

  9. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.06

    One of the real problems with public prayers is that they give the impression political thugs are doing God's work and also gives the political hacks the illusion that they are somehow better than anybody else. And for being such good public religionists, they all miss this:

    Mathew 6.6 more or less says pray in private if the prayers are to be considered. This suggests that public piety is a waste of everybody's time whether agnostic, atheist, or Christian.

    Of course, the Bible also says that even the Devil can quote scripture.

  10. PNR 2013.02.08

    LK - I've been called worse things in my time.

    More harm is done to the faith and its proclamation by such intransigence than any good gained. What is more, tying the faith to a particular political view as these people are doing (and folks on the left do it just as much as folks on the right - for every James Dobson, there's a Jim Wallis) sacrifices the independence of the Church. It also fosters the notion that the Church's survival depends on government - and odd acquiescence to the idolatry of our age. And instead of remaining separate from the institution of the State, thus free to critique it objectively, the Church becomes merely one more lobbying group begging at the government trough and a tool to be manipulated by those factions that control access to the trough.

    If that makes me a liberal, so be it.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.10

    Dobson is a profiteer; Wallis is trying to counter-program and undo Dobson's damage to society and church.

    That said, PNR, I appreciate your recognition of the risk church takes in mingling with state. Healthy Christianity is an outside movement, always positioned to critique the wordly powers that be.

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