- Cullman, Alabama


November 5, 2013

A right to pray

CULLMAN — Here we go again. The U.S. Supreme Court is getting ready to tackle the trendy topic of whether government officials can open a meeting with a prayer to God.

The case is coming forward because of persistent challenges to the practice by non-Christians and those who simply view any mention of religion in a public setting as an attempt to establish a particular faith by the government. The First Amendment initially applied to the federal government not to establish any particular religion, while states pretty well carried on as they wished. In 1947, the Supreme Court approved the Establishment Clause and applied it against the states.

Nevertheless, the arguments surfacing today about religious prayers before government meetings or at ballgames attempt to take the law beyond its intent.

The high court ruled in 1983 that an opening prayer is part of the nation’s fabric and not a violation of the First Amendment. Government officials, from Congress to a town council, are not establishing a religion when they pray publicly to open a meeting. President Obama is already siding with the city of Greece, N.Y., which traditionally opens council meetings with prayer. The president goes back to the 1983 ruling and does not want to lose the tradition of Congress opening with prayer.

There is no indication the Founders ever intended to block prayer by citizens or office-holding government officials. The warning in the amendment is simply not to allow government to establish a religion for the people. It stands to reason that a community that is predominantly Christian would likely elect to have prayers at a meeting that are Christian-based. A community with a larger Jewish population would likely pray based on that faith, and so on. But that does not establish a religion.

The United States is diverse from city to city. The people, whether serving in government or not, choose how they will pray. The First Amendment has been tested in the courts and holds to its purpose. That should be enough.

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