A couple of weeks ago, Representative Skip Stam defended holding prayer in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) by compiling a list of 155 prayers said in the Assembly since 2011. He made the list in response to the threat of a lawsuit from the ACLU (which wrote a letter of concern about prayer in the North Carolina legislature in 2012).
Being a devout Christian — and a frequent sayer-of-prayers — you might expect I’d be in favor of public praying at the start of government meetings and other public functions.
I understand that a big part of serving in our government is tradition — and maintaining the tradition of Christian prayer is a part of that. But tradition is not always right. In response to Stam’s list, I’ve made one of my own. Here’s why I believe prayers at the legislature should not be sanctioned:
- It alienates people of other faiths. The prayers on Stam’s list are overwhelmingly Christian, and mention the name of Jesus Christ 134 times. Meanwhile, Muslims and Jews receive only two mentions. And what about people of other faiths or of no faith at all?
- It makes some employees uncomfortable. People of faith already have individual faith communities; we have time set aside to practice religion outside of work without holding back. As comfortable as I feel talking to God, I know that not everyone wants to share their time with God with their boss. And what do you do if you don’t believe in God and everyone around you bows their heads? I don’t want to make an employee feel like she must pretend to pray because her boss is watching.
- It perpetuates the idea that politicians must have faith. There is a reason why most of our politicians are Christian. There is a reason why, during his 2008 presidential campaign, detractors quickly tried to label Barack Hussein Obama as Muslim. (He’s not, but so what if he was?) We tend to believe that politicians of faith bring morality into their politics. Conversely, there’s an assumption that people without faith lack morality. But we know that’s not true. Some of our most religious politicians support policies that defy Christian values, such as serving the poor.
- It reinforces the religious tradition of silencing women. According to many religious traditions, women should not speak in front of men. Women are instructed to wait until they get home to discuss their thoughts with their husbands. In fact, some women are instructed to not have thoughts that oppose their husbands’. I can only speak for Christianity, but we have a long history of alienating the thoughts and opinions of women. Many women don’t practice religion for this very reason. By eliminating prayer at the General Assembly, North Carolina would be working to include women’s voices.
Take it from me, a devout Christian: we don’t need a more prayer in politics. We need more morality in politics. We need leaders who will support legislation that will help women and minorities. We need affordable childcare, stronger schools, better health care, and equal pay for women. If our legislative leaders want to show us how religious they are, they will do these things — not merely say words that don’t support their actions.
Emma Akpan works for Blueprint North Carolina, where she helps to build coalitions of charitable organizations, and at Women AdvaNCe. In her free time, Emma likes running and starting book clubs. She doesn’t believe a nice day should be wasted inside, and that time shouldn’t be wasted eating bad food.