The Cleveland City Council has fallen under fire for beginning each meeting with a Christian invocation or prayer, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have called foul, claiming that the council is endorsing Christianity through their actions. While this has happened in many cities and small towns and even in the United States congress, the debate rages as to the role of religion in politics, especially in our nation that guarantees religious freedom.
Not being a constitutional lawyer, I can't address whether the council has the right to do so, but I can address the question whether they should.
As Lutherans, we understand God's Kingdom to come in three ways, as His Kingdom of Power, Grace, and Glory.
God's Kingdom of Power exists everywhere. (Psalm 103:19) He created all things and has established not only the laws of nature, but the natural law of morality that He has written on all people's hearts. He has also put in place earthly governments to protect us, and in our nation, our elected officials act on His behalf to execute justice. God places them there out of love, and, recognizing them as God's representatives, we respect the positions they hold. (Romans 13:1-7) Note that the state's job is to carry out God's justice, not His mercy.
Grace means "undeserved love," and God's Kingdom of Grace refers to that place where He displays His grace most clearly: in the forgiveness of sins that He gives through the sacrifice of His Son for us on the cross. (Romans 14:17, Colossians 1:13-14) The responsibility to pass on this message rests with the church. (Matthew 9:38) Prayer, which is only heard through the worthiness of God's Son on our behalf, rests firmly in the Kingdom of Grace, so using the Kingdom of Power to promote the Kingdom of Grace confuses these two, however well-intentioned. (Matthew 22:20,21)
God's Kingdom of Glory refers to heaven and the New Creation that we will all see on the Last Day at Jesus' return at the Resurrection. (Job 19:25-27) There, the other two kingdoms will merge, and we will all acknowledge Him and know the truth once and for all.
So should our elected officials pray before and at their meetings? We should pray at all times! (Ephesians 6:18) Should they force others in attendance to pray, especially when they may not believe in the God being addressed? No.
Instead of insisting that all of our elected officials include public prayer at their meetings, let's encourage them to pray privately throughout as they make decisions intended for the good of the community, and spend our time praying for them, that the Lord would guide them to seek justice for all people.