Editorial: Inclusive message in prayer

Rajan Zed's effort to raise awareness and educate people about the Hindu faith by offering to open government meetings with prayer have touched many people, and his message is one that our Board of County Commissioners could learn from.

Our commissioners, of course, have embroiled themselves in a lawsuit for their practice of opening meetings with sectarian prayers. To our board, only its preferred Christian religious prayers are acceptable in opening its meetings.

Contrast that with the City of Laurel, which welcomed Zed on Monday, or Portsmouth, where he offered the opening prayer at that city's council meeting. Zed told The Virginian-Pilot that Portmouth was the last stop on his tour that also saw him give opening prayers at a Frederick City Council meeting, and even provide a prayer last week for the U.S. House of Representatives.

In a press release, the City of Laurel said Zed is a global Hindu and interfaith leader, and noted that Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world with about 1 billion adherents, including about 3 million in the U.S.

Throughout its crusade against allowing other religious openings at its meetings, our Board of County Commissioners has tried to cast the debate as a First Amendment battle and as government trying to take religion out of our daily lives. That's utterly false. And the fact that even after all this time the commissioners continue to maintain that falsehood says a lot about their true motivations.

Elected representatives of government at all levels should strive to represent all residents, not just those who happen to hold the same ideologies or religious beliefs.

Contrast our board's actions with those of other communities in Maryland and across the nation which open their meetings with prayers offered by representatives of multiple religions and our board's exclusionary practices are nothing short of shameful.

As individual citizens in a diverse community, we have always displayed a welcoming approach to others regardless of our differences. We don't ask people their religion, political affiliation or use any other qualifier as a precursor to extending a hand in welcome.

Our government should reflect such warmth and friendliness that is at the bedrock of our community.

Zed may have concluded this tour of cities and government bodies, but perhaps our board can learn from his message of peace and harmony, and open its arms to the entire community the board is supposed to serve.