Justices Weigh Constitutionality of Town's Prayers

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The Supreme Court is again wrestling with the role for religion in government in a case involving prayers at the start of a New York town's council meetings.

The high court is weighing a federal appeals ruling that said the Rochester, N.Y. suburb of Greece violated the Constitution because nearly every prayer at the town hall meetings in an 11-year period as overtly Christian.

One of the residents who prayed at the meetings was Rev. Patrick Medeiros, with Greece Assembly of God.

"In my prayers I have asked God to bless our community, to bless our leaders, to grant them divine wisdom as they do the people's business in our community," Medeiros said.

What could this case mean for religious freedoms? Rev. Rob Schenck, with Faith and Action, explains this and more below:

But Ayesha Khan, with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the prayers unconstitutional.

"Participating in ones local government is a universal right of citizenship," Khan said. "It should not be conditioned on recitation of the Lord's Prayer or participating in any other prayer that is unique to a particular faith tradition."

But supporters of the town prayer say even atheists were invited to offer invocations. And the justices comments and questions indicated a majority did not agree with the appeals court ruling that the town prayers were unconstitutional.

"The other sides arguments would require government to censor prayer, to decide what is orthodox and what is not, when prayer givers are giving public prayer," Thomas Hungar, a lawyer for the town of Greece said. "And that would be contrary to our traditions of religious liberty."

The discussions between the justices were at times spirited.

"Justice Kagan was asking some pretty pointed questions about particular prayers that were offered at the Greece town council meetings, including explicitly Christian prayers and that seemed to trouble her deeply as did a couple of the other justices," Rev. Rob Schenck, with Faith and Action, told CBN News.
 
One solution put forth by the plaintiffs was to come up with a generic prayer that eliminated references to any religion.

"The idea that you can come up with some kind of general prayer that everyone will be happy with is virtually impossible and at the end Justice Kagan, who started out quite negative, seemed to agree with that position," Schenck said.

Those who defend religious liberty in America say in the end such cases have a much bigger agenda.

"The end game in this situation is to eliminate all public prayers," David Cortman, with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said. "But I think the bigger picture is the attack on religious liberty, that they simply want to censor anyone of faith who speaks out in the public square."
 
A decision is expected by late June.

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