Sunday, December 4, 2011

Prayer in County Council Meetings

A case has been filed in Federal Court concerning the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in county council meetings. The tradition of saying the Lord’s Prayer started back in 1971. The prayer has since been said at the beginning of every county council meeting and is led by the Council President. Americans United, a religion liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., has filed a case against the Sussex County Council claiming that the saying of the prayer is an establishment of religion and that violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The plaintiffs argue that, “Sussex County’s promotion of the Lord’s Prayer shows favoritism towards the majority religion and excludes those residents who don’t share that faith”. They also claim that the prayer pressures those attending the meetings to participate in the recitation of the prayer since the council members can see who is and who is not participating in the recitation of the prayer. The Americans United group also claims that the prayer is incredibly specific towards not only one religion, but one denomination of religion. The rendition of the Lord’s Prayer that is recited is an Episcopalian one. They believe that this particular rendition would be “unfamiliar and disagreeable” to other denomination of Christians such as, Catholics or Congregationalists. Therefore, they argue that this specific rendition of the prayer is not only offensive to non-Christians but also to other denominations of Christians.

I agree with the filing of this case and believe that the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is an establishment of religion by the County Council. I understand that the saying of the Prayer is a Tradition that dates back 40 years, but that does not mean that it is not an establishment of religion. The continual recitation of a prayer, specifically the Lord’s Prayer, at county council meetings is an endorsement of religion by the state and therefore the court should rule that the prayer is no longer said at the beginning of council meetings.

In Marsh v Chambers the U.S. Supreme Court held that opening legislative sessions with a prayer by a Chaplain was constitutional, mainly because it was something that is a part of the unique history of the United States. However, this case is different from that of the Sussex County Council meetings because the prayer in Marsh v Chambers was read and recited by a Chaplin and not the members in the Nebraska Congress. Therefore, I feel that the Federal Court in the Sussex County Council case will not rule the same way that they did in Marsh v Chambers. The recitation of the Prayer is said by all attending the meeting and the forum in which the meetings are held adds pressure for those attending to recite the prayer. Also, since the Prayer is so specific towards one denomination of Christianity, I believe that the Federal Court would consider the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer an establishment of religion.

Currently, the Americans United group is asking the court to put a preliminary injunction blocking the recitation of the prayer at the meetings, at least until the court reaches a verdict. Do you believe that the federal court will side in favor of the Americans United group? Or do you feel that the court will follow the precedent set in Marsh v Chambers and argue that the prayer is a part of our nation’s unique history?

8 comments:

Harry R. said...

I think that this case rightly readdresses the Marsh ruling. Based strictly on precedent, the Court would rule in favor of the prayer reading. However, due to some of the differences between the cases such as the council members reciting the prayer, it may be more likely that the Court may rule against the prayer. I feel that this would be the correct ruling and would appropriately reverse the Marsh precedent. I believe that a denominational prayer recited before public governmental sessions directly violates the Establishment Clause by elevating specific religious views as "right" and supported by the state.

TNTbo said...

I feel that the Marsh ruling should be readdressed, and that both instances are unconstitutional and endorsing a religion. Whether you are paying a chaplain or a government worker to say the prayer, it is a non neutral prayer and discriminates against other minority religions. I feel the only way to have neutral prayer is to eliminate it completely, that way there is not even an issue.

Callie B said...

I agree that the prayer recitation at Sussex County Council is an establishment of religion. The argument of a "unique tradition" is entirely flawed. Our country has suspended a variety of past practices, despite the fact that they were traditions, because they were unconstitutional. Tradition alone cannot save a practice. Furthermore the determination of what constitutes a tradition is incredibly arbitrary. I hope this case forces the Court to reevaluate Marsh.

Marissa V said...

I agree with the court ruling stating that it is an establishment of religion. Although it has been a long standing tradition, traditions should not be the sole reason it should be allowed to stay. In my opinion, the Marsh v. Chambers ruling needed to be readdressed and this ruling corrects this. Having prayers in the government is clearly an establishment of religion.

Liz Petrillo said...

This is certainly an establishment of religion, and this would make minorities particularly uncomfortable since the prayer is the majority religion. Therefore as the prayer is being said majority of the people would probably say the payer and it would extremely obvious as to who is not. The prayer should be eliminated all together, there should be no moment of silence or no opportunity for those who don't feel comfortable with saying the prayer to temporarily leave.

Grace R said...

I agree that saying a prayer is an establishment of religion. It is not simply a non-denominational spiritual prayer, but a specific prayer designated largely for one Christian denomination. Even though it is tradition, I believe that if anyone has a problem with it, it should immediately be abolished on grounds of establishment.

Alexis A said...

@Liz Petrillo,

While I agree that the prayer may be an establishment of religion within government, I am surprised at your assertion that even a moment of silence would be offensive. Silence is not an inherently Christian tradition. I think the purpose of the prayer here is to begin the meeting in a solemn, thoughtful fashion - not to promote the Christian faith through government. In this case, a moment of silence would certainly be appropriate, and it would be less offensive to all who attended the meeting.

Christiana Torere said...

The court will rule against the prayer because it is unconstitutional for the council to recite the prayer, and for a layman to lead them in the lords prayer. It is in direct violation of separation of church and state. Had the council hired a Chaplain 40years ago then that would have been a different story. I honestly feel that reciting prayer shows the inconsideration of other religious beliefs and values. Although the majority share the same religion it still a sneaky way to force customs or beliefs on a set of individuals. People know right from wrong and someone such a council member is familiar with the constitution, if people allow issues to go undone then the problems will continue.