U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of prayer in government meetings

Published 10:00 am Thursday, May 8, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayers at government meetings do not violate the Constitution and that news had Polk County Commissioner Chair Ted Owens singing praises this week.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday, May 5 when Owens announced the Supreme Court’s decision made earlier in the day regarding a lawsuit in the Town of Greece, N.Y.
“The supreme court has upheld the right to open town council meetings with prayer,” Owens said. “So hallelujah, amen.”
The 5-4 supreme court ruling Monday went as far as to say the content of prayers in government meetings is not critical as long as boards make a good faith effort at inclusion.
Owens said the ruling pleased him because it favors Polk County’s practice of inviting different church leaders to deliver the invocation at meetings.
Polk County came face to face with controversy over prayer at government meetings when Pastor Thomas Olson, with the Trinity Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Tryon opened a meeting with an invocation. The invocation was delivered on President’s Day, Monday, Feb. 17.
Olson’s approximate four-minute prayer asked to “deliver us from those destructive laws and godless practices that are tearing apart the holy institutions of marriage and family among us, institutions established by God in the creation of man as male and female, with the command to be fruitful and multiply. Save us from rampant no-fault divorce, illicit sexuality by live-in partners, the public promotion of homosexual lifestyles which endangers our young and leads directly to the corruption of our boys especially; the proliferation of children of single moms fueled by economic encouragement and worst of all the indefensible slaughter of the unborn in our beloved homeland based on the deceitful and dishonest judgments of a few evil men over 40 years ago. Help us see the good that we can do here in Polk County to curb the spread of lawlessness and the abuse of children and help us stand for decency, with sound instruction in our schools, with honesty and integrity in business and government, and with committed husband- wife and father-mother relationships in our homes.”
While no one spoke on the prayer at the Feb. 17 meeting, commissioners’ were faced with approximately 100 residents who attended the next March 3 meeting where 14 residents commented on the prayer. While some were in favor of the prayer, the majority said publicly Olson’s prayer was inappropriate and had no place in a government meeting.
The Bulletin also received numerous letters to the editor regarding the prayer.
In the Greece, N.Y. case, two women sued the town objecting to invocations at monthly meetings on government property. The plaintiffs claimed that the invocations had been overwhelmingly Christian in nature over the years.
“The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “and does not coerce participation by non-adherents.”
The Supreme Court opens its sessions with the marshal making a traditional statement ending with, “God save the United States and this honorable court.”
The Greece case went to the U.S. Supreme Court following a federal appeals court in New York finding the board’s policy to be in violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which forbids any government from endorsing religion.
The Alliance Defending Freedom represented the Town of Greece in court and said the Supreme Court has again affirmed that Americans are free to pray.
“In America, we tolerate a diversity of opinions and beliefs,” said the Alliance Defending Freedom’s senior counsel David Cortman following the ruling; “we don’t silence people or try to separate what they say from what they believe.”
The ACLU said it was disappointed in the ruling and official religious favoritism should be off-limits under the Constitution.
Daniel March with the ACLU said, “town sponsored sectarian prayer violates the basic rule requiring the government to stay neutral on matters of faith.”

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