The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it’s all right for governing bodies to begin their meetings with a prayer.
Good. I’m glad the court honored the First Amendment’s provision that disallows laws that establish a state religion but also prohibits any restriction on religion.
What’s a bit troubling, though, is that the court was so split on this one. It voted 5-4 — conservatives on the majority side and liberals on the other side — to allow “sectarian” prayer at town council, school board and county commissioners meetings.
I’ve never quite understood the strenuous objection to these prayers. They are, as Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in his majority opinion, meant to call attention to the solemn nature of an event, not to indoctrinate anyone.
The court heard a case out of Greece, N.Y., where a Jewish resident had complained that the city’s governing council opened its meetings with Christian prayers. He felt excluded from the blessings sought at the beginning of the meeting. So he took it to court and it ended up in front of the highest court in the land.
This would seem like a no-brainer decision.
Congress starts its sessions with daily prayers. They aren’t Christian prayers, or non-Christian prayers. They are all-encompassing. Indeed, Congress has members of many faiths, Christian and non-Christian alike. It even has non-believers in its ranks. Are the non-believing members of Congress going to protest? Surely they know better, given the constituencies they represent.
The court ruling doesn’t place any restriction what’s long been a tradition in many communities across the land. Amarillo’s City Council meetings begin with prayers. They’re usually given by Christian clerics and they often invoke Jesus’s name.
Still, no one should feel threatened by prayer. As Justice Kennedy wrote, “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable. Legislative bodies do not engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate.”