Civic Engagement Nebraska Politics

Editorial: Get Prayer Out of Government

Before we decided to write this piece, many of us on the SRN team didn’t know what religious identity many of the rest of us were. So we took a roll call and here are some of the answers:

  • “An atheist who occasionally thinks things are so fucking weird I am agnostic-ish”
  • Protestant Christian
  • Methodist
  • “Extremely Jewish”
  • Unitarian Universalist
  • “I’m atheist but will go with Satanic for the purpose of making people lose their shit even though satanism is nothing but atheism with added pussy power and social justice”
  • Lutheran
  • “a terrible Buddhist”
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • “Newly atheist, formerly Southern Baptist”
  • Episcopalian
  • Zen Buddhist

The reason we didn’t even know most of our religious identities despite getting along very well and chatting on a daily basis is because—imagine this—it generally has nothing to do with our work together.

And it has nothing to do with the work of secular governance either.

There’s a lot to regret about the white men who penned the founding documents, but one thing they got right is that religion has no place in government.

As an editorial board, we support the effort led by Nebraska Secular Democrats to eliminate the prayer that has become customary at the beginning of the State Central Committee of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Seeing Red Nebraska is proudly independent of any party, so we say this as friends, not insiders: prayer should have no place in politics and government.

Our country is a two-party system. Anyone hoping to get involved in government is essentially forced to work with the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. Becoming involved in government and politics should not require participating in, being coerced into, or having to sit out a normative religious act. The Republican Party is a lost cause on this topic and every other topic. But if the Democratic Party cannot model secular governance, who will?

We all understand that faith is an important part of many people’s lives–even some of ours. But that is not a reason to build it into the business of a political party that should be secular. (The situation is different, of course, at protests and other community events that reflect a variety of voices, beliefs, and concerns.) Prayer should be practiced so clearly outside of party meetings that there is no implication that a religious interest is assumed or required to be a full participant. Allowing a range of prayers from different faith positions is not a solution, as it still repeatedly affirms that prayer and faith are a component of party business.

The same arguments for separation of church and state that underlay the foundation of the country continue to apply. In addition, the NDP should consider how many of its members have traumatic or actively terrible associations with various aspects of religion, having been raised in a state and a country where religion is routinely weaponized against women and LGBTQIA people. At a time when we are trying to heed intersectionality, why introduce a divisive, alienating act into a space that should be secular anyway?

Our country is facing the bleak fact that democracy is under assault. If we are to save ourselves we must build or rebuild democratic principles that include protecting voting rights, eliminating gerrymandering, strictly limiting campaign spending, getting rid of the Electoral College, and ensuring that government remains secular. Lord knows Cthulhu knows We all know Republicans won’t lead on this, so let’s hope the Democratic Party will.