I find it more than a little ironic that the biggest proponent of pre-meeting prayers, Council President John Cusick, is someone who never practices what he preaches. Father John is in the driver's seat now, as he was once before, purely as a result of stabbing another Council member in the back. He's no role model, but insists on leading Council with a prayer before meetings while another Council member, Mat Benol, hangs his personal copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall behind his desk. This injection of religion into government needs to stop.
Contrary to what a few local elected officials like Cusick seem to think, theocracies are barred in this country by the Establishment Clause in the Constitution's First Amendment. Pennsylvania's Constitution goes even further:
[N]o man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.Now Northampton County has no policy concerning pre-meeting prayers. They came into vogue when Ron Angle was elected President. His practice, which was actually the consensus of Council, was to invite church leaders from throughout the community to deliver an invocation, after which they were encouraged to share a little bit of information about their church.
Because most of the religious communities in Northampton are Christian, those clerics dominated meetings. But Angle also brought in rabbis and, on one occasion, a Buddhist.
Though Angle had no way of knowing this, the approach he took was precisely what the United States Supreme Court would sanction in its 2014 decision in Greece v. Galloway. Pre-meeting prayers, even those that refer to specific religions, pass constitutional muster so long as the following four factors exist:
1. Local clergy are invited to deliver the prayer (elected officials should be discouraged from delivering the prayers themselves).When Cusick engineered Angle's ouster as Council President, he took over the pre-meeting prayers himself. He became the Alpha and the Omega, the voice of the Almighty, and clerics of different faiths were no longer invited.
2. Citizens are never compelled to participate in the prayer.
3. The prayers never demean other religions, threaten Hell or seek converts.
4. There must be opportunity for a would-be prayer giver of any religious persuasion.
Once Cusick was gone, Peg Ferraro reverted to the practice of inviting clerics from different area churches. But now that Cusick has managed to remove her as Council President, he has taken it upon himself, once again, to be the Prophet, the burning bush.
On January 7, he decided on his own to command us all to "bow our heads" to the "Heavenly Father" On January 21, he invoked the "Heavenly Father." again. On February 4, we were commanded to "rise for the Prayer" to - guess who? - the "Heavenly Father."
After I begam to complain, Cusicj decided unilaterally on February 18 to tone things down a tad with a "silent prayer" for the happy repose of the soul of Antonin Scalia. On March 3, it was once again a "silent prayer" followed by an "Amen.".
There is nothing even remotely uplifting about listening to an anal algebra teacher pretend he's religious.
But his prayer on March 17 takes the cake. Please rise for the prayer. May the thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks.... When Irish eyes are smilin', 'tis like a morn' in Spring."
He took the lyrics of an Irish drinking song - and all Irish songs are drinking songs - and turned it into a frickin' prayer. He did so with a smirk on his face, revealing what I already know - he's a phony who had to have offended anyone with religious sensibilities with what amounted to a taunt, not a prayer.
I don't know what is more amazing - the fact that he is pulling off this nonsense or the fact that everyone in that room is willing to put up with it.
Below is an email I'm firing off to all members of Council:
Since his installment as President, John Cusick has taken it upon himself to deliver what what some might call a prayer at the start of each meeting. So far as I know, Council has no policy concerning prayer and Cusick is therefore exceeding his authority as Council President by unilaterally imposing his own religious beliefs upon everyone else.
The purpose of this email is to demand that Cusick cease his ultra vires practice until Council votes on a policy that comports with the Supreme Court's 2014 decision in Greece v. Galloway. That decision is one in which clergy from the community is invited to lead everyone in prayer, and no one is ever even mildly coerced into participation.
The Greece v. Galloway decision also requires you to give the opportunity to would-be prayer givers of any religious persuasion. So if you insist on kicking off each meeting with a prayer, please be advised that I demand the opportunity to present representatives of the Church of Satan, Lehigh Valley Humanists, Circle of Ancient Paths Coven and the Lehigh Valley Network of Unified Pagans at your next several meetings.