I appeared before the Wichita City Council last week asking members to reconsider the practice of beginning meetings with an invocation (July 21 Eagle). Regrettably, several members of the council appeared tone-deaf to the message of respecting the separation of church and state, and became highly defensive about their own faith.
The board of the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State was especially disappointed in the unprofessional conduct of council member Sue Schlapp and her contempt for the invocation sincerely delivered by Michael Alldaffer.
Clearly, Schlapp thinks only her beliefs are valid. Would her comments have been tolerated or even raised if a rabbi or imam had given the invocation? To offer up her own blessing was tantamount to declaring, "My God is better than your humanism." It was insulting, and she should apologize.
However, Schlapp's "blessing" reinforced my very point: Invocations are given to satisfy private religious beliefs and have nothing to do with good government.
Our board also was disappointed that Mayor Carl Brewer ignored Schlapp's intolerant attitude, yet minutes later claimed the council belonged to all citizens. What person would feel welcome after the remarks made by council members Schlapp, Paul Gray and Lavonta Williams?
Without a vote or discussion from all members of the council, Brewer decreed invocations would continue. The council did not even pretend to be open to discussion and reflection on the issue. That's disturbing.
While Inter-Faith Ministries handles the scheduling for invocations, the mayor did not provide the full picture. The mayor's staff told our board that when a speaker cannot be secured, city staff members spend time searching for speakers, and a staff member from the mayor's office fills in when needed.
As for the claim of inclusiveness, the numbers reveal a different story. In 2008-09, 42 invocations were delivered. Thirty-five were Christian in nature, and more than half invoked some form of the speaker's personal savior. Only seven were given by non-Christian celebrants; of those, only three faith traditions were represented.
All personal religious beliefs are secure and protected under the Constitution, but religious freedom is a two-way street. Americans cannot expect religious liberty for themselves while imposing their own faith on the public in government meetings.
After numerous terrorist attacks, it is astounding that some public officials do not accept or understand how religion is divisive and so intensely personal that it remains highly vulnerable to misunderstandings among good people. Government does not have the luxury of adding more misunderstandings to its daily planner.
We must move away from old cultural traditions keeping us mired in our differences and uphold the greatest gift the founders bequeathed to future Americans: stability against sectarian strife by establishing the separation of church and state.