On Political Candidates and Public Prayer

Today we have a guest post from a dear friend of mine, Ali. This past weekend at a sporting event in our Sarasota hometown, she encountered the jumbled mess that is political prayer (for lack of a better term). Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder is running for governor of Florida, and on her campaign page, she states that she is running on a platform aimed at returning God and strong family values to our state. A platform which terrifies me, but seems to go largely unnoticed by almost everybody else. Does Cuevas-Neunder stand a chance? I hope not, but her voice is still being heard and supported. Let’s add some more secular-oriented voices to the mix:

“I am a runner. It’s normal, pre-race, to listen to announcements and then stand at attention as the National Anthem is preformed. Sometimes, if the weekend is particularly important, the announcer will call for a moment of silence. All this is pretty normal for a race.

My husband races paddleboards. Like any athletic competition, it’s normal for there to be announcements read at the beginning of the event. This weekend, as we settled onto Siesta Key beach for a 6-mile paddle race, the announcements were finished by an introduction of Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, a local politician running for governor.

Cuevas-Neunder proceeded to ask everyone to hold hands so she could pray.

Now, let me pause here for a moment. For the first twenty years of my life, I identified as either an Atheist or Agnostic Jew. I’m pretty used to feeling singled out when some coordinator of a secular public event decides to pray. This isn’t a new thing for me. Apparently there’s some belief that as long as the prayer is non-denominational, then no one can get offended, even when non-denominational almost always refers to non-denom Christianity.

But here’s the rub: Cuevas-Neunder is running for political office. And here she is, praying over men and women who want to get out onto the gulf and work up a sweat. Here she is directly crossing the line that separates church and state.

A quick Google search provides a little insight into Cuevas-Neunder. Bold as brass on the front page, we see “GOD-STATE-FAMILY”. I could go on about how anyone who puts their family last on their list is a pretty messed up person, but let’s stay on topic here. What place does God have at all on her political website? I couldn’t care less if she posted GOD LOVES YOU and JESUS SAVES all over her personal Facebook page, but this kind of religious preening doesn’t belong on a politician’s page.

The problem here isn’t that the prayer was awkwardly spoken – it was; if she plans to stand a chance on her political campaign, she really needs to practice her off-the-cuff public speaking – it’s that it was completely out of place and inappropriate.

I told my husband (loudly), “I had no idea this was a religious race.” My ire was immediately up. I was offended. Deeply.

If she felt moved to pray after her initial greeting, Cuevas-Neunder could have avoided alienating a huge percentage of her audience simply by inviting people to come pray if they would have liked to, putting the microphone aside – oh yes, this prayer was broadcast all over the beach, by the way – and then praying with only those who were moved to do so. I’m not about stepping on others’ rights to their religion. Have at it. But leave me out of it.

The day ended up being beautiful and fun, but the start left a bad taste in my mouth. Here’s a helpful note to political-hopefuls and other public speakers: prayer and religion are extremely personal. Stop airing yours in public. It’s indecent, and when it comes to mixing prayer and politics, it’s downright inappropriate.”

 

It’s important to reiterate that this was a public prayer that was broadcast throughout the ENTIRE north end of the beach. Cuevas-Neunder clearly didn’t think of the implications of her actions, but they shouldn’t be ignored. Once again, a dangerous precedent has been set by a political candidate. In this case, a political candidate who truly believes that we should be living in a God-oriented state. So comment, share, and speak out. Don’t let this be an accepted norm.

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