Prayer is a way of speaking to God or releasing His power. People use it to honor their God and to seek guidance and forgiveness.
Prayer isn't limited to church. But when religion goes beyond the walls of church and enters the public arena, questions arise for which there are no clear answers.
For years, Reno County Commission meetings have opened with prayer. But recently the practice was questioned after the commission received a letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The letter claimed Reno County's prayer is unconstitutional because it focuses too much on the name of Jesus. The commission was asked to either make the prayer more inclusive or eliminate it altogether.
"I ask the commissioners, don't bow down to this. Don't bow down and compromise," said Hutchinson Pastor Darryl Peterson.
Peterson voiced his concerns during the commission's public comment period earlier this month. He urged commissioners to keep Jesus in the public prayer. Peterson said changing to a nonsectarian prayer would "water it down" and undermine the purpose.
Ordained minister Amy Dane also spoke at the meeting, shortly after leading the commission in a prayer to "our gracious and loving creator". Dane said a nonsectarian prayer would be more inclusive.
"I would hope these meetings are a place where all people feel welcome regardless of the particular faith they hold," Dane told the commissioners.
The three elected officials, concerned about possible costly lawsuits, voted unanimously to adopt a policy in which the commission prayer will be directed to no particular God.
The separation of church and state remains a gray area for courts. Recently, a federal appeals court determined Forsyth County, North Carolina had endorsed Christianity through its prayer policy because an overwhelming majority of its prayers were Christian. In prior rulings, theU.S. Supreme Courtheld that "opening legislative sessions with prayer has become part of the fabric of our society." However, the high court declined to hear the Forsyth case in January. The ruling by the 4th Circuit would not apply in Kansas.
Father Bob Layne of McPherson, an Episcopalian priest and former Kentucky legislator, said too often public prayer is "spiritual frosting". In other words, it's more for show than for substance.
"I feel that sadly so many prayers over public secular events are nothing but to make us all feel real holy," said Layne.
Layne encourages prayer, but feels it should be done as a private and personal conversation with God, as the bible says in Matthew 6:6 "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
Government agencies across Kansas handle the issue of prayer differently. For example, Wichita Public Schools observe a moment of silence. The city of Salina also has a moment of silence. The Derby and Wichita City Council meetings open with prayer organized by outside ministerial groups. The Butler County Commission has neither a prayer nor a moment of silence.