It's always good to hear about government officials agreeing to follow the law before a court orders them to.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger reported today that officials in Newton, N.J., agreed to stop reciting the Lord's Prayer before its city council meetings, following a complaint made by resident Doug Radigan.
"It's not a surprise, but I'm disappointed that we had to cave into this or we would've been open to a lawsuit," longtime Councilwoman Thea Unhoch told the Star-Ledger. "You can't even say 'Merry Christmas' anymore."
Unhoch is not the only one saddened by the council's decision to follow the Constitution. Several commentators left messages on the Star-Ledger's Web site, making it clear that they have little respect for the council's decision or for the religious diversity of this country.
One person wrote, "Don't like it, then put your fingers in your ears."
Another wrote, "What a shame. To please one idiot, the majority has to give up our values and traditions."
And my favorite: "Radigan must be a communist and sympathize in their beliefs. I bet he voted for Obama too just like all the leftie loons."
Obviously, these people miss the point. It's not about being able to block out the prayer, majority rules or political affiliations. This country, including the state of New Jersey, is made up of people with differing religious and philosophical beliefs. Our government cannot favor one religion over another. It makes those of other beliefs feel like outsiders, and our Constitution does not permit it.
As AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the Star-Ledger, a government meeting to talk about "potholes or cable TV" does not need to involve Christian prayer. It's excluding, unnecessary and just plain rude.
Per advice from a lawyer, the Newton City Council will now recite secular invocations prior to meetings. AU does not support any sort of prayer at government meetings, but agrees that if there is to be prayer, it shouldn't be sectarian.
So we commend the Newton City Council for their wise decision. After all, the council has been reciting the Christian prayer since 1952. It's probably not easy to suddenly comply with the First Amendment.