McClellan: Candidates’ call for prayer a clear plea for votes - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

McClellan: Candidates’ call for prayer a clear plea for votes

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 9:14 am | Updated: 12:08 am, Mon Sep 24, 2012.

Let’s be honest here. The newest Gilbert controversy seems just an attempt to win an election.

School board candidate Daryl Colvin appeared before the board recently, asking that group to consider reinstituting a prayer at the beginning of each meeting (it stopped almost 11 years ago, replaced by a moment of silence).

Colvin , according to articles, argued that the current policy is “insulting, ridiculously shallow, and unnecessary,” adding that the moment of silence is “a need to bow to political correctness to a ridiculous degree.”

He also argued that beginning with a prayer would help the board “make better decisions and fewer mistakes.”

Then, as reported in The Arizona Republic, he lambasted the board:

“The school district needs to make a decision whether they are there to help perpetuate successful American traditions, or to place a left-wing activism where they want to undermine those traditions. They voted in favor of leftist activism. I find that particularly disturbing and a good example (of) why we need some changes on that board.”

I guess I have a couple of questions.

How does opening the school board meetings with a prayer “perpetuate successful American traditions?”

The reason I ask that is, as far as I know, a school board meeting without an opening prayer doesn’t harm my religious beliefs at all. I can still pray right then and there (and having gone to some of those meetings, I’ve often prayed , sometimes for them to mercifully end). I can still attend my church, still participate in our church’s activities, still encourage our college son to go to the campus ministry.

If the tradition Mr. Colvin speaks of is our freedom to worship as we please, he knows as well as I do that no one in our country will stop him from practicing his religion. A moment of silence in place of an opening prayer in no way hinders his or my religious practice.

So the question becomes: “Is a public meeting an appropriate place for public prayer?”

I’m not sure. Does a prayer help the kids? Not necessarily. Does the prayer set the tone for the evening? I’ve been to plenty of heated Mesa school board meetings that followed an opening prayer. I believe in prayer, its power and its ability to help us find peace in a crazy world. But in a place of worship or my home or simply in my head. A prayer prior to a school board meeting can become an empty exercise in symbolism. In that case, an opening prayer actually demeans religion.

Just as I’m worried Mr. Colvin is doing. The board has had a moment of silence for 11 years. Now -- possibly conveniently -- candidate Colvin brings the issue up, weeks before the election.

I wonder, I worry, if Mr. Colvin isn’t exploiting religion for his own ends.

I hope I’m wrong.

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