Proper For Govt Officials to Direct Citizens to Participate in Prayers? No..


Proper For Govt Officials to Direct Citizens to Participate in Prayers? No..

14 June 2016 at 9:03:31 AM

Couple of notes about the latest Somervell County Commissioners Court and City of Glen Rose Meetings. (6/13/2016). I was glad to see that Judge Danny Chambers apparently invited, or the minister invited himself, not sure which, to do an invocation near the start of the county commissioner's meeting on 6/13/2016. This is rather than have an elected government official do a prayer from the dais. Same thing for the City of Glen Rose this week where a local minister did the invocation rather than a government official (See my last post for May concerning this entitled Permissible for Elected Officials to Lead Prayer During Govt Meeting? -Glen Rose-Somervell

Even though the elected government officials are no longer doing the prayers themselves, which is GREAT, there are a couple of things still up in the air. First, in both meetings, Judge Chambers said "Dennis, would you lead us in prayer this morning?"

And the mayor of Glen Rose, Sam Moody,  instructed the audience to stand for the prayer. She said "I ask everyone to please rise for the invocation which is being delivered by Pastor Dougle of the Glen Rose Baptist Church and then please remain standing for the pledge of allegiance."

Now let's look at what the Supreme Court said about ceremonial prayer in Town of Greece v Galloway (emphasis is mine) 

The principal audience for these invocations is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing. The District Court in Marsh described the prayer exercise as “an internal act” directed at the Nebraska Legislature’s “own members,” Chambers v. Marsh, 504 F. Supp. 585, 588 (Neb. 1980), rather than an effort to promote religious observance among the public. See also Lee, 505 U. S., at 630, n. 8 (Souter, J., concurring) (describing Marsh as a case “in which government officials invoke[d] spiritual inspiration entirely for their own benefit”); Atheists of Fla., Inc. v. Lakeland, 713 F. 3d 577, 583 (CA11 2013) (quoting a city resolution providing for prayer “for the benefit and blessing of” elected leaders); Madison’s Detached Memoranda 558 (characterizing prayer in Congress as “religious worship for national representatives”); Brief for U. S. Senator Marco Rubio et al. as Amici Curiae 30–33; Brief for 12 Members of Congress as Amici Curiae 6. To be sure, many members of the public find these prayers meaningful and wish to join them. But their purpose is largely to accommodate the spiritual needs of lawmakers and connect them to a tradition dating to the time of the Framers. For members of town boards and commissions, who often serve part-time and as volunteers, ceremonial prayer may also reflect the values they hold as private citizens. The prayer is an opportunity for them to show who and what they are without denying the right to dissent by those who disagree.

To put a fine point on it. The prayers are not to lead an entire group of citizens who attend a government meeting, but ceremonial prayer TO BE DIRECTED TO THE ELECTED OFFICIALS. Therefore, for either the judge or the mayor to indicate that the audience is to be *led* by a minister in prayer or that everyone should stand for the prayer is not only inappropriate but was ruled against by the Supreme Court. 

The analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the prayer opportunity. No such thing occurred in the town of Greece. Although board members themselves stood, bowed their heads, or made the sign of the cross during the prayer, they at no point solicited similar gestures by the public. Respondents point to several occasions where audience members were asked to rise for the prayer. These requests, however, came not from town leaders but from the guest ministers, who presumably are accustomed to directing their congregations in this way and might have done so thinking the action was inclusive, not coercive. See App. 69a (“Would you bow your heads with me as we invite the Lord’s presence here tonight?”); id., at 93a (“Let us join our hearts and minds together in prayer”); id., at 102a (“Would you join me in a moment of prayer?”); id., at 110a (“Those who are willing may join me now in prayer”). Respondents suggest that constituents might feel pressure to join the prayers to avoid irritating the officials who would be ruling on their petitions, but this argument has no evidentiary support. Nothing in the record indicates that town leaders allocated benefits and burdens based on participation in the prayer, or that citizens were received differently depending on whether they joined the invocation or quietly declined. In no instance did town leaders signal disfavor toward nonparticipants or suggest that their stature in the community was in any way diminished. A practice that classified citizens based on their religious views would violate the Constitution, but that is not the case before this Court.

To again put a fine point on this. In Town of Greece v Galloway, the analysis would have been DIFFERENT if town board members told the public to participate in the prayers, including rising for them. In my opinion, what Judge Chambers and Mayor Moody did was not constitutional and highly inappropriate.No one shoudl be told by the judge that they will be led in a prayer, and no one should be directed to stand for a prayer. Surely if these entities want an invocation, they could simply introduce the invocation giver and let him or her, within the bounds of constitutionality, say whatever. 

In rejecting the suggestion that legislative prayer must be nonsectarian, the Court does not imply that no constraints remain on its content. The relevant constraint derives from its place at the opening of legislative sessions, where it is meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage. Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing, serves that legitimate function. If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbeliev-ers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court.

On a second point, anyone, because these are invocations that do not have to be religious in nature, can do an ceremonial invocation to be directed to the elected officials (again, NOT the audience, this is NOT a church), am interested to see what policies are being set in place to ensure that all know they may do so, and have an orderly way to do it. 

P.S. I notice that neither of the two ministers who were apparently asked to do the prayers stayed for the meetings. Dennis Moore left shortly after the ceremonial parts of the meeting occurred, as did the man who led the prayer for the city. Of course, this happens quite a bit at any government meeting, where people attend for a given purpose, and then, after, leave, and the room gradually gets less crowded. But for years, neither the city nor the county had prayers at their meetings, conducted them as secular meetings rather than quasi-church sanctioned events, and the same good and bad decisions were made. Seems very superstitious to me to bring in an invocation giver, who will then trot out of the room once he (or she) has done his job. 


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