The U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule soon in a case that will determine whether prayers at government meetings should continue to be allowed and if so, what kind.
The court will rule on whether an upstate New York town violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion," by starting its board meetings with prayer.
The legal issue in the case Greece v. Galloway is whether the Town of Greece violated the Constitution with its opening prayers because nearly every one in an 11-year span was overtly "Christian."
The facts are as follows: In 2008, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, one of them an atheist and one Jewish, started complaining about the practice of starting a town meeting with a prayer because they felt it aligned the town with Christianity. Over the next year, the town invited four non-Christians to lead the prayer, but in January 2009, all those leading the prayer were again Christian.
There's nothing new about our nation's governments beginning legislative sessions with a prayer.
The practice was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1983 in Marsh v. Chambers as long as "innocuous" prayers were "simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country" and the selection of prayer-givers does not stem "from an impermissible motive" or "the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief."
The court will test whether the invocations were indeed "innocuous," or whether the ministers went overboard in invocating the name of Jesus and other specific denominational references.
This case will further set the boundaries often pushed by Christian fundamentalists who try to use public forums to promote their religious beliefs.
Since its founding, our nation's leaders have tried to balance the freedom to practice any religion with the fact that this country has strong Christian traditions.
But the country has grown increasingly polarized by the politicization of Christian (and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish) teachings on social issues like abortion, gay marriage and prayers in school and at government meetings.
Equally disturbing is the assault on Christianity by the far left. There's an equally polarizing effort to enforce rules that prevent governmental recognition of our Judeo-Christian beliefs and traditions.
The annual attack on "Christmas" and Obamacare's unjust and rather stupid birth-control mandate are two examples of such absurd political rhetoric and action.
Prayer should be allowed at public forums, but it should recognize that not all Americans subscribe to traditional Christian beliefs.
This month's town meeting in Greece, N.Y. was started with this prayer from a Baptist minister:
"Lord, we ask that the decisions that are made will be made with a lot of thought and with a lot of wisdom from you," said the Rev. Mike Metzger of First Bible Baptist Church. "In Jesus' name, I pray."
The Supreme Court should rule in favor of the plaintiffs. The Town of Greece has allowed those leading the prayer to refer to "Jesus as the Son of God." Such strong references to Christian beliefs don't belong at a government meeting.
Greece's Town Board meeting is not a church service, but a forum that serves both believers of many different faiths and nonbelievers, too.
It's no place to promote or politicize Christianity. What's needed is an "innocuous" prayer that recognizes the Constitution, not the New Testament, as the true measure of law in the United States.
This post originally appeared in Context Florida.
Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary (stevenkurlander.com) and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.
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