Vickie Sandell Stangl: Keep prayer out of public meetings

11/20/2013 12:00 AM

11/19/2013 5:33 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard the case of Greece v. Galloway, sponsored by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This case challenges the almost exclusive use of Christian prayers before meetings of the town board in Greece, N.Y.

Some Americans believe Christian prayers before council meetings should be allowed because their faith is in the majority and feel their religious freedom would be violated to deny such a right. However, the government is not in the religion business, and regardless of whose faith is the dominant faith culturally, government meetings are public events open to all citizens.

Constant Christian expressions make nonbelievers or people of other faiths feel like outsiders. No citizen should have to go before a government body and feel he or she must first appease another person’s beliefs before business can be conducted

Religious freedom affords everyone the right to believe and feel safe in expressing one’s beliefs in houses of worship or in one’s private behavior, but it doesn’t oblige government to sanction religion by opening government meetings with prayers.

Officials who wish to pray before or after meetings may do so. However, I suspect prayer is not the real issue; the real issue is establishing faith as the superior view for all Americans. Therefore, prayer must be done in the open and by leaders in the government in order to carry the full weight and force of the state to demonstrate who should govern America.

Like it or not, we do have a secular government, and citizens must accept that fact and stop insisting religion be given favored status by the government. Public officials, including the courts, have for too many years refused to uphold the important line between church and state.

In 1983, Marsh v. Chambers, the Supreme Court upheld legislative prayer in Nebraska largely upon the rationale of “historical” bases, but it noted that legislative prayers should be nonsectarian. This appeal to tradition may no longer make sense for a nation of exploding religious diversity. It’s time to reconsider it and simply uphold the Constitution.

The court should acknowledge it is up to religion to make its own case on its own time. Faith groups have no right to enlist the aid of government to promote their theology during public meetings that are meant to serve us all.

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