The Keller City Council has adopted a novel approach to a local atheist giving the invocation before council meetings.
The council has decided to begin each meeting with two prayers, apparently in hopes that one of them will be a prayer that the elected officials agree with.
Whether that’s a workable solution for both the council and Keller resident Zachary Moore, an atheist and a humanist, is a tough issue. And it might have to be sorted out by lawyers and courts.
There’s no doubt that Moore brought it all on. He told Star-Telegram reporter Mark David Smith that the American Humanist Association has encouraged people to sign up to give secular invocations at government meetings.
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There’s no argument that it’s OK for such meetings to be opened with prayer. The Supreme Court has established that.
There’s not much argument that Moore has just as much right as anyone else to sign up to give invocations, because that’s the way Keller decides who does it.
The argument is over whether what Moore says — he has given the opening invocation three times — constitutes prayer. City Manager Mark Hafner said the council wants prayer.
Each time Moore has filled that role, he’s been followed by a Christian prayer. After the last time, Aug. 18, he formally requested to give his invocation alone.
The council is on thin ice. Hafner says the council looked at the things Moore says and, “not knowing if it’s a prayer or not,” decided on a policy of having two prayers.
Moore says it is a prayer.
“An invocation is a ceremony or event in which you invoke some higher authority or higher value,” he told the Star-Telegram. “When I give invocations, the things I’m invoking are our shared democratic values.”
In his first invocation, on Dec. 2 last year, he urged council members “to open your eyes and open your hearts.”
He said, “Let the work done here tonight in this chamber make manifest our highest possible aspirations.”
The difference between that and more typical prayers is that there’s no plea for divine help.
If the council insists on a prayer that seeks divine help, its two-prayer policy has a better chance of getting there.
But why not three prayers or four, just to make sure?
It’s dangerous legal ground for the council to pass judgment on Moore’s invocation. It’s the sort of thing on which both sides will have legal arguments to make.
They might have to make them in court before this is all done.