Yesterday, a federal appeals court ruled 2-1 that county commissioners in Jackson County, Mich. – all of whom are Christian – can no longer deliver prayers that are exclusively Christian prior to their meetings.
Americans don’t agree on much, but one thing pretty much everyone can agree on is that Congress is not a very popular institution right now. A recent poll found that only 8 percent of us think Congress is doing a good job.
Americans United’s Legislative Department works with members of Congress and knows that there are lots of good men and women serving in that body. So what accounts for this?
For decades, the City of Lakeland has opened its Commission meetings with prayers delivered by invited clergy. And for twenty-five years, these speakers were selected from a list containing clergy from exclusively Christian denominations; the invited Christian clergy typically delivered Christian prayers. After the plaintiffs complained in March 2010, the City expanded its list of invited clergy to include other denominations.
For years, the Sussex County Council opened its public meetings with a Council member reciting the Lord's Prayer. Americans United wrote to the County Council in June 2008, and again in April 2009, asking the Council to stop opening its meetings with the Lord's Prayer because the Constitution prohibits legislative prayers used to advance one religion. The County did not respond to either letter.
For years, the Forsyth County Board of Supervisors invited local clergy to deliver sectarian prayers at Board meetings; most of the prayers were Christian. In March 2007, the plaintiffs Americans United and the ACLU of North Carolina challenged the Board’s prayer policy in federal court. In January 2010, the trial court ruled that the prayer policy was unconstitutional and had the effect of affiliating the County with Christianity.
Communities across the country continue to squabble over what they should do about prayers before government meetings.
The latest flashpoint is Eau Claire County, Wisc., where the Board of Supervisors has voted 23-4 to replace its invocation with a “moment of reflection.”
Religion is a controversial thing, isn't it? Especially when it occurs in a political or governmental context.
Exhibit A today is the flap over a minister's opening prayer at the Oklahoma House.
Prayer at governmental meetings is a never-ending source of controversy. Latest case in point: an ire-inducing invocation at the Kansas House of Representatives last week.
Guest Chaplain Brian Schieber, pastor of the Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Church, took advantage of his place at the speaker's podium to launch a vitriolic attack on reproductive freedom.