Statement on Prayer before the Roswell City Council

[In early 2010, Roswell, Georgia’s then-City Councilwoman Betty Price floated a proposal to begin City Council meetings with prayer. This was unanimously rejected by the rest of the Council; nonetheless, in advance of an open forum on March 20, 2010, Mrs. Price had invited public comment on the prayer issue (hoping, apparently, that a groundswell of grassroots support might intimidate the Council into reversing their decision). Being a concerned resident of Roswell who supports separation of church and state, I attended this forum and read the statement below to the Council. For what it’s worth, Mrs. Price went on to serve several years in the Georgia House of Representatives. She was defeated by Democratic challenger Mary Robichaux in 2018, and in turn challenged Robichaux in 2020 and lost. It’s also worth noting that Mrs. Price is married to former U.S. Congressman Dr. Tom Price, who represented Georgia’s 6th district for over 12 years. Dr. Price (an anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-regulation, anti-global warming, anti-Obamacare crusader) served as Donald Trump’s first Secretary of Health and Human Services, but was forced to resign less than a year later over a scandal involving his use of expensive private jets and military aircraft when efficient commercial alternatives existed. He also engaged in biotech investments that represented a clear conflict of interest with his governmental duties. Despite his disgraceful exit from federal “service,” the Georgia legislature named a highway intersection in Roswell in his honor. Fortunately, neither of the Prices is currently in public service. –John C. Snider, March 1, 2022]

Thank you for the opportunity to address you tonight. I wanted to share my thoughts with you on the recent proposal to open City Council meetings with prayer.

My name is John Snider. I have been a resident of Roswell for nearly ten years. One of the things I have loved most about Roswell is the low-key, low-drama, business-like way in which our city council has conducted its affairs.  Roswell has stood head-and-shoulders above the embarrassing shenanigans we hear about from our neighbors in Cobb County (where the theory of evolution is suspicious), or from our state’s governor (who thinks he can scare up a thundershower by praying like the man on the street corner in Matthew 6:5).

While it may be true that prayer before government proceedings is a longstanding tradition in much of America, that doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it Constitutional, and it doesn’t make it useful. And those of us who prefer that the Council remain neutral on matters of religion are not unpatriotic, nor are we anti-Christian.

I know you won’t find the phrase “separation of church and state” in the Constitution, but neither will you find the phrase “America is a Christian nation.” But the Courts have overwhelming upheld the former, and rejected the latter.

This nation’s Founders were abundantly aware of the dangers of sectarian division, so they created a thoroughly secular Constitution.  

Lest you are motivated by some misguided notion to honor the Christian faith, I might remind you that Jesus himself supported separation of church and state when he said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”  

Jesus also said, “But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.” I don’t think he mentioned anything about prayer before the city council.

I think the Council got it right the first time when you decided to drop this issue. Prayer is an activity best handled at the individual level. Let’s not risk turning citizen against citizen, or involving the city in a costly lawsuit that it will surely lose.

Thanks for your time.

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