A number of city councils and county commissioners nationwide have decided to add prayer to their public meetings following this month’s Supreme Court ruling that declared invocations at government gatherings constitutional.
As previously reported, in a divided 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld prayers predominantly in Jesus’ name amid a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Greece, New York residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens. Galloway and Stephens contended that the prayers made them feel “marginalized” as they are not followers of the Christian faith. Galloway is Jewish and Stephens is an atheist.
“[I]t’s a form of coercion,” Stephens told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “Some of these pastors tell you to stand up and bow your heads to pray to Jesus, and what if you don’t believe that? And if you refuse to stand up and bow your head, you stick out. It’s a coercive situation.”
But the Supreme Court found otherwise, noting the nation’s history of government prayer.
“The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy on behalf of the majority. “To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.”
Therefore, a number of city councils and county commissioners are now considering adding prayer to their meetings, including those who had previously done away with such invocations.
The Salisbury, Maryland City Council had dropped its practice of prayer—namely the recital of the Lord’s Prayer—in 2011 and initiated a moment of silence. But this week, it decided to invite religious leaders to present prayers at the meetings once again.
“We never had anyone complain about the Lord’s Prayer verbally. They may have said it to individuals, but publicly no one came to that podium and said any word—since I’ve been attending the meetings for 10 years—saying they objected to the Lord’s Prayer,” said Councilwoman Shanie Shields. “And if no one objected to the Lord’s Prayer, how would they object to something non-denominational or a poem or something?”
The League City Council near Houston, Texas also voted 7-1 last week to add prayer back to its meetings after the Freedom from Religion Foundation convinced the city to remove the invocations from the program.
“It’s rooted all the way back to the founding of our country,” Mayor Timothy Paulissen told local television station KHOU. “I’ve had overwhelming support. I haven’t had anybody in the city of League City that ever complained about the prayer.”
The Alamance County Board of Commissioners in North Carolina likewise resolved this week to reinstate its practice of prayer at county meetings. According to the Burlington Times-News, Commissioner Bill Lashley moved on Monday to have invocations included in the official business of the county. The board unanimously approved, and resolved that each commissioner will take turns on a rotation offering prayers at county meetings.