Former President Bill Clinton addressed a large crowd when he spoke at Northrop Auditorium for Friday’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party grassroots rally.
The rally, co-hosted by the DFL and the University of Minnesota’s College Democrats, encouraged voters to support Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in the upcoming midterm elections.
Amid the discussion of Clinton’s address, which concluded the rally, it’s easy to forget that one of the event’s earlier speakers came onstage solely to lead the audience in a collective prayer for social equality and for the DFL’s political leaders. Although the prayer wasn’t specifically denominational, it used the words “Lord” and “God” several times.
Political rituals often encode references to religion. For example, when the rally began, the audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance, which mentions “one nation under God.” Additionally, Clinton, when he concluded his speech, uttered the traditional “Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”
Even though these traditional references to religion often attract criticism from those who feel they violate the separation of church and state, we feel that the public prayer exhibited Friday is a serious transgression. It serves a primarily religious purpose, rather than rhetorical one.
We feel that the decision to lead the audience in a public prayer was inappropriate for what should have been a secular event hosted by a secular University. While the prayer was doubtlessly well-intentioned, it seems ironic to pray for social equality and, in so doing, to overlook audience members with different beliefs.