You Can’t Pray That Here!

By:  Chip Wood
11/18/2013
       
You Can’t Pray That Here!

Another Federal court has taken a whack at another 200-year-old tradition in this country. This time, it’s opening public meetings with a prayer. An appeals court has ruled that the practice somehow violates the U.S. Constitution.

Now the issue is in front of the Supreme Court. Let’s pray that a majority of the justices get it right. Here is what is going on.

Like many communities in America, the town of Greece, N.Y., opens its monthly board meetings with a prayer. Although a variety of local religious leaders have delivered the prayers, most of them were given by Christians. This shouldn’t be surprising, since most of the religious institutions in this Rochester suburb — as in most of the country — are Christian.

But this was too much for two women in the town. Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens protested that the prayers constituted a government endorsement of religion. They sued the town to have them stopped.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that such “legislative prayer” is perfectly OK, as long as the prayer does not promote (or disparage) a particular religion. But the plaintiffs found a court to support them. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the practice was “too sectarian” and had to be stopped. The town appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which held a hearing on the case last week.

Hopefully, a majority of justices there will agree with earlier Supreme Court decisions, such as Marsh v. Chambers in 1983, which ruled that such legislative prayers weren’t an “establishment of religion,” but rather a “tolerable acknowledgement of beliefs widely held among the people of this country.”

By the way, in that 1983 decision, the Court wrote that the very same group of lawmakers who drafted the 1st Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights also “adopted the policy of selecting a chaplain to open each session with prayer.”

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