WSJ: Supreme Court Should Allow Prayer at Government Meetings

Monday, 11 Nov 2013 12:32 PM

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The Supreme Court, which heard a case last week aimed at banning prayer from government meetings, should allow it to continue, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial.

"At stake is the survival of what the lawyers call 'legislative prayer,' and whether the courts should be in the business of deciding what kind of prayers pass muster," the Journal said Sunday.

In the case before the court last week, two women sued the town of Greece, N.Y., over a short prayer offered by a rotation of local religious leaders before the start of town board meetings.

The plaintiffs allege that the prayers represent a government sanctioning of religion. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

"By the court's logic, the First Amendment's dictate that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion' means ending voluntary prayers that are led by citizens, unless those prayers are inclusive of the vast majority of world religions," the Journal said in reference to the case.

"Count us skeptical that the courts should examine the content of every prayer held at a town board meeting or judging whether a prayer could be considered too 'religious.'"

What should the judgment standard be, the editorial asked.

"Give me an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus . . . Wiccans, Baha'i?" Justice Samuel Alito asked the plaintiff's lawyers during last week's Supreme Court argument.

"And atheists?" Chief Justice John Roberts chimed in.

"The Second Circuit's ruling would likely mean an end to public prayer that has existed for 200 years in many parts of the government," the Journal editorial continued.

"The Supreme Court opens each session with 'God save the United States of America, and this honorable Court,' and the U.S. Congress opens each day with a prayer intended (at least in theory) to unite members in a purpose that transcends partisanship."

In a 1983 case, the Supreme Court approved legislative prayer as long as it did not promote or insult specific religions.

As for now, "part of what we are trying to do here is to maintain a multi-religious society in a peaceful and harmonious way," Justice Elena Kagan observed during last week's hearing. "And every time the Court gets involved in things like this, it seems to make the problem worse rather than better."

"Amen to that," the Journal said of Kagan's comments.

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