Pensacola (FL) City Council
13 February 2014
David Suhor (337 words - 2:16)

Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. Tonight I would like to ask you not to bow your heads, but to look around at the women and men here in this moment, sharing this experience of coming together to improve our city. As we work to solve the problems we face, I won’t appeal to any god favored by the majority. No, I appeal to you, to dedicate your energy to the task before us as human beings sharing the goal of a fairer, more loving community.

I’m not here to ask the blessings of any common deity, but to call upon our common duty to love and honor each other, setting aside our individual beliefs for the greater good. In that light, I’d like to invoke the words of some others who shared my view. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate a sovereign reverence. That act of the whole American people, which declared that their legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said, “We are a very religiously diverse country. All should be treated equally, so I don’t see how you could compose a prayer that is acceptable to all.” Even Jesus is said to have condemned public prayer, in Matthew, chapter six, saying, “Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy father, which is in secret.”

So today I begin this meeting differently, not by praying to the spirit of any one religion. Instead I ask that we invoke the spirit of community, thereby welcoming all our citizens. I’m not here to lift up my god above yours, but to call forth that most universal commandment: that we love our neighbors as ourselves. As Carl Sagan said, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

Let this invocation begin a new tradition, where the nonbelievers among us feel as loved, valued, and honored here as any believer ever has. Thank you.