Permissible for Elected Officials to Lead Prayer During Govt Meeting? -Glen Rose-Somervell
12 May 2016 at 1:09:50 PM
Fixing to discuss whether it is appropriate for elected government officials to lead prayer from the dais, as opposed to, if a government entity wants to have prayer, bringing in others on an inclusive basis to offer prayer up from the audience.
Here are 2 recent examples of government officials leading partisan prayer from the dais.
Somervell County Commissioners Court May 2016
City of Glen Rose -note that the town councilman Dennis Moore directs the audience to pray
I have asked, via open records, whether Somervell County has an invocation policy and was told there is not one. I have a similar request in to the City of Glen Rose, have not yet received a reply. I also have an open records request in with GRISD.
As a contrast, the Somervell County Hospital District board has had members of the public, including ministers, doing invocations as opposed to a board member doing so from the dais.
p 5 of the decision (on the PDF) "Following the roll call and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, Auberger would invite a local clergyman to the front of the room to deliver an invocation. ,,, The town eventually compiled a list of willing "board chaplains" who had accepted invitations and agree to return in the future. The town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would be prayer giver. Its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation. "
"By welcoming many viewpoints, the District Court concluded, the town would be unlikely to give the impression that it was affiliating itself with any one religion.
The Court of Appeals "found it relevant that guest clergy sometimes spoke on behalf of all present at the meeting, as by saying "Let us pray" or by asking audience members to stand and bow their heads. "The invitation... to participate in the prayer.. placed audience members who are nonreligious or adherents of non-Christian religion in the awkward position of either participating in prayers invoking beliefs they did not share or appearing to show disrespect for the invocation". That board members bowed their heads or made the sign of the cross further conveyed the message that the town endorsed Christianity. .. The Court now reverses the judgement of the Court of Appeals.
... Congress continues to permit its appointed and visiting chaplains to express themselves in a religious idiom. It acknowledges our growing diversity not by proscribing sectarian content but by welcoming ministers of many creeds. ... The Court instructed that the 'content of the prayer is not of concern to judges' provided "there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to prosletyze or advance any one, or to disparage any other faith or belief.' 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, a rule that owuld involve government in religious matter to a far greater degree... Our Government is prohibited from prescribing prayers to be recited in our public institutions.... The First Amendment is not a majority rule and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech. Once it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates, unfettered by what an administrator or judge considers to be nonsectarian.
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 nonbelievers 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.
It is thus possible to discern in the prayers offered to Congress a commonality of theme and tone. While these prayers vary in their degree of religiousity, they often seek peace for the Nation, wisdom for its lawmakers, and justice for its people, values that count as universal and that are embodied not only in religious traditions, but in our founding documents and laws. ... Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith. .. So long as hte town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination, the Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing.
It is an elemental First Amendment principle that government may not coerce its citizens "to support or participate in any religion or its exercise". ... The principle 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'. .. Toe be sure, many members of the public find these prayer meaningful and wish to join them..
The analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for oppobrium,or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person's acquiescence in the prayer opportunity. ... 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.... In the general course legislative bodies do not engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate. ... board members and constitutuents are 'free to enter and leave with little comment and for any number of reasons'. ..
My own reading of this Supreme court case is that it is not permissible for a board member or govt official to offer or lead prayer, but rather to invite others, irrespective of religion or lack of religion, to invoke a ceremonial invocation directed *to* the government officials. This is so that elected government officials do not have the appearance of establishing religion.
Some recent news articles about prayer at government meetings.-
Someone approached the Casper City Council at the end of its meeting May 3 and asked the members to consider opening meetings with prayer. At their work session Tuesday, council members discussed whether they should further discuss the option.
After about 10 minutes, they decided not to.
Casper Mayor Daniel Sandoval said “he’d go with God” but noted that he felt there were issues with opening a meeting with prayer. He cited the Christian principle of praying in private, the need for a secular government and the confusing distinction between religion and politics.
“I think we need to minimize that confusion if we can,” Sandoval said.
“It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings,” wrote Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisc. Seidel said the foundation has 23,700 members nationwide, including 1,200 in Florida, and a local chapter called the Central Florida Freethought Community.
“Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual,” he wrote.
His email cited federal circuit court decisions and U.S. Supreme Court decisions which, in summary, found that holding group prayer at school events violates the US Constitution, which prohibits a government body from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” Experts say it means a government entity can’t establish an official religion, or take any actions which unduly favor one religion over another, or which appear to prefer religion over non-religion.
Marley said they debated many options, including allowing clergy from the community to perform the invocation. But that would open the prayer up to everyone and the town may not be able to keep out groups that might be offensive to a majority of residents. Phoenix and Scottsdale's councils recently faced that when representatives from the Satanic Temple asked to do the invocation.
"There are religions in this community that many of us may not be comfortable with," Cuka said.
"I don't want prayer to become a travesty," Marley said. "It is a sacred thing, and I'm in agreement with Councilmember Turner, I'd rather have no prayer at all than have it turned into a comedy routine where we have a rapper come up and decide he's going to rap his prayer."
Marley, who seemed defiant in February, said there was one argument that opposition made that swayed him.
"One of our most compelling arguments, and we've listened to dozens of arguments ... this is the one that affected me the most, was the example of an individual coming before council with a request, who was from a different culture and from a different religious background, and to see a member of this legislative body lead the invocation, would give the impression, now not necessarily a reality, but it would give the impression, or the appearance, that the local government was endorsing a specific religion."
Prayers before government meetings have long been a source of legal fighting. The Supreme Court ruled in May 2014 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that prayers are allowed before local government meetings, but only if the prayers are not given by elected officials, don’t discriminate against any faith and do not coerce people into prayer. Some council members feared revoking the Satanists’ invitation would violate the discrimination aspect of the law.