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Reno City Council asked to resume opening prayer

November 12, 2013
Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Religious leaders want the Reno City Council to once again begin their meetings with a prayer, a tradition that has been replaced with a moment of silence in recent years because of concerns about the constitutional separation of church and state.

Universal Society of Hinduism President Rajan Zed and a dozen other leaders of different faiths told Reno Mayor Bob Cashell on Tuesday that invocations are standard practice at many city councils across Nevada, including Las Vegas, Carson City, Henderson, Boulder City, Sparks and North Las Vegas.

Representatives of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Wiccan beliefs also said they believe they can pass constitutional muster by offering prayers that don't speak to a specific religion.

"It does take a little more skill or creative thinking to create an invocation that's good for all religions without pushing any one particular religion," said Ellyn Darrah of the Children of Temple Earth, a network of Wiccans and pagans in northern Nevada.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments on the question of public prayers at a town council in New York state, but in that case, a federal appeals court had found the opening prayers to be unconstitutional in part because they had been almost exclusively offered by Christians.

Zed said the Reno coalition wants all religions to get a chance to provide the invocation.

"We don't have to be afraid of hearing others' voices," said Matthew Fisher of the Reno Buddhist Center. "If we have a logical system, we can have fairness and rotate through it."

The mayor told leaders of the coalition that he will ask the council to consider the request.

"I'm very open-minded to what you want to talk about," Cashell said. "It's done in a lot of places. They do it in Washington every morning."

He said the council decided to transition to a moment of silence several years ago "so everyone could pray the way they wanted to."

But Cashell said it was premature to discuss the issue with the group without asking for it to be placed on the council agenda in accordance with open meeting laws.

Jon Eric Johnson of the Reno Freethinkers, a secular community group made up of atheists, agnostics, humanists and others, said he's a frequent participant in local interfaith efforts and welcomes a public dialogue on the matter, but opposes resuming prayers.

"Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion," said Johnson, one of a handful of opponents who sat in on the meeting. "You should have the freedom to believe what you want. We just don't want your religion in our government any more than you want our government in your religion."

William Webber, another member of Reno Freethinkers, said any action should be postponed until after the Supreme Court rules on the case from Greece, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester, which is expected next summer.



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