At 6 p.m. sharp on Tuesday, April 26, with Alabamans comfortably seated for the Tuscaloosa City Council meeting, the mayor asked everyone to rise for the “Call to Order” prayer:
“Dear God, bless our proceedings today. Give us wisdom to know what is just and the strength to do what is right. Amen.”
After the obligatory Pledge of Allegiance, people sat down, assured their God would guide official decisions and make Tuscaloosa a great place to live. After the usual proclamations, announcements, presentations, “hearing from the public” and after votes authorizing this payment and approving that requisition, the council adjourned for the night, thinking all was well with the world. What they should have prayed was this:
“Dear God, give us the wisdom to know what is just ahead of us.” Because the next day, a series of exceptionally violent “act of God” tornadoes tore through the state, leaving “scorched earth” paths of destruction and killing 238 people, including 45 in Tuscaloosa County.
The tragedy happened a month after my astute FFRF Forum team (Rene Morris, Frank Hribar and Lili Leader) completed a research study on the efficacy of prayer in 200 cities ranked and rated by Forbes magazine in 2010 as “Best Places for Business and Careers.” We searched the online archived council meeting minutes and meeting videos for each municipality on whether they opened meetings with prayer.
Although Tuscaloosa didn’t make it into Forbes as a worse/best finalist, what happened there that ominous day should make any self-respecting and responsible city council across America’s fruited plain take a hard look at FFRF Forum statistics or conduct their own honest research to seriously question what good prayer does anybody. And how could you prove that it does?
Mundane issues like liquor licenses and filling potholes seem like easy, straight-up-or-down decisions that an omniscient deity shouldn’t be bothered with when common sense would suffice. Wouldn’t an “almighty God” have more important things to worry about, like ensuring the dogcatcher doesn’t step in it?!
Some of what we discovered:
Of the top 10 cities, 20% didn’t pray and still were highly ranked. (Fort Collins, Colo., at No. 4, doesn’t pray. How did that happen?)
About 60% of the bottom 10 cities prayed for wisdom at council meetings. They prayed hard too, but still received no measurable help from above. The remaining 40% of the bottom 10 didn’t bother to pray and still bottomed out. What does it all mean? Does God favor some cities and ignore others?
Almost half of the top 24 cities didn’t concern themselves with prayer. What should that indicate to responsible mayors — that there’s no plus to prayer? We think so.
One surprise: “Sin City” Las Vegas prays, and Salt Lake City (“City of the Saints”), doesn’t. But because their God works in mysterious ways, they beLIEve.
Most of the cities that had been praying for wisdom before the 2008 “act of man” financial tornado ripped across America, destroying houses, businesses and lives, protest for being ill advised by their cherished wisdom giver? They evidently received bad advice, for apparently they weren’t given pertinent enough warnings to save money for a very long and “rainy day.”
Anne Nicol Gaylor’s signature saying bears repeating: “Nothing fails like prayer.”
Here are the 20 top and bottom “best” and “worst” career cities and their prayer policies. (1 = Pray; 2 = No pray; 3 = Moment of silence; 4 = Indeterminable):
#1. Des Moines IA, 1; #2. Provo UT, 1; #3. Raleigh NC, 1; #4. Fort Collins CO, 2; #5. Lincoln, NE 1; #6. Denver, 2; #7. Omaha NE, 1; #8. Huntsville AL, 1; #9. Lexington, KY, 1; #10. Austin, TX, 1;
#11. Ogden UT 3; #12. Colorado Springs CO, 1; #13. Cedar Rapids IA, 1; #14. Boulder, CO, 2; #15. Fayetteville AR, 2; #16. San Antonio, 2; #17. Charlotte NC, 1; #18. Seattle, 2; #19. Portland OR, 2; #20. Salt Lake City, 2.
#181. Springfield MA 3; #182. Palm Bay FL, 1; #183. Atlantic City NJ, 1; #184. Visalia CA, 1; #185. Fresno CA, 1; #186. Beaumont TX, 1; #187. Bakersfield CA, 1; #188. Rockford IL, 1; #189. Corpus Christi TX, 1; #190. New Orleans, 1;
#191. Canton OH, 1; #192. Youngstown OH, 2; #193. Stockton CA, 1; #194. Detroit, 1; #195; Utica NY 4; #196. Salinas CA, 2
#197 Flint MI, 2; #198. Modesto CA, 1; #199. Vallejo CA, 2; #200. Merced CA, 1.
Darrell Barker is administrator of the FFRF Forum, an online resource for Foundation members at ffrf-forum.org/. He also volunteers for FFRF in other capacities and has been a member since 1986 (and a younger brother to Co-President Dan Barker since 1951). Rankings of all 200 cities are in the “Lounge” section of the forum. The topic is “Rated and Ranked.”