Who should determine what prayer should be said?

Letter to the Editor


As I read some of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and listened to some of his speeches this past MLK Day, one of his interviews made me think of the practice of the Hays County Commissioners Court compelling anyone who wants to participate in the actions of that body to listen to and participate in a prayer offered by members of that body or someone they have chosen to give a prayerful invocation.

The participation is created when the presiding officer tells all in attendance at Commissioners Court meetings to stand for the invocation, sometimes directing them to bow their heads.

In 1965, Dr. King was asked his opinion about the decisions of the United States Supreme Court prohibiting official prayer at the start of each school day in public schools.  He responded,

“I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.”  

This has been my objection to the Commissioners Court practice since it began under the leadership of Christian evangelicals who serve as our elected officials.  The logic of Dr. King’s response applies just as much to other levels of government as it does to public schools.  In the United States, there are well over 300 religions and denominations.  While a majority of people consider themselves Christians, many other religious views are represented in our country and in our county.

We should not have the religious views of our elected government representatives imposed upon us during governmental activities.  They are elected for their decisionmaking skills in managing what is clearly a secular government. In spite of what may be considered constitutional at any particular time, it is a denial of the rights of all to have the government, through its elected officials, promote its religious views at official meetings of that government.  

In spite of claims of fawning admiration for Dr. King offered each year by government officials on his day of remembrance and honor, not one of them has answered satisfactorily the question he posed:  “In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom?”

Lamar W. Hankins San Marcos, Texas

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666