Judge bans the “distinctly Christian” Lord’s Prayer


A U.S. district court judge in Delaware ruled last week that members of a local city council who had been reciting the Lord’s Prayer at every meeting for six years must stop the “Christian” practice because it violates the Constitution.

The decision by Judge Leonard P. Stark comes in response to a lawsuit filed last year by four Sussex County residents who claimed that the prayer violates the First Amendment. The city council had argued that the Lord’s Prayer, though widely used by Catholics and Protestants, was not exclusive to Christianity as it does not make a specific reference to Jesus.

Judge Stark explained in his opinion that “the court is likely to conclude that the Council’s practice of opening each meeting with a recitation of this distinctly Christian Lord’s Prayer violates the Establishment Clause because it constitutes government endorsement of the Christian faith.”

“The fact that The Lord’s Prayer has been the only prayer recited at the beginning of Council meetings for over six years is likely to be found to demonstrate that the Council gives Christianity an unconstitutionally preferred status,” he added.

The county’s attorney, J. Scott Shannon, argued earlier this year that the prayer, introduced by Jesus in the Bible, was being misunderstood by the plaintiffs.

“[Jesus] was not offering a Christian prayer in the Christian tradition because no Christian tradition existed,” Shannon said. He also positioned that there was no specific mention of Jesus Christ in the prayer, and it contained language that was fitting to other faiths as well.

But the attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Alex Luchenitser, insisted that the very opening lines of the prayer — “Our Father Who Art in Heaven Hallowed Be thy Name” — does indeed refer specifically to Christ.

“That’s a Christian way of referring to Jesus. This is not something reasonable people disagree over,” said Luchenitser, who spoke on behalf of plaintiffs Barbara Mullin, Julie Jackson, John Steinbruck and William O’Connor.

The quote about the opening lines of the prayer is, of course, poppycock. An educated atheist should know better.

Read the rest.


  1. Completely AGREE with the judge’s call. I love the Our Father, and respect anyone and everyone’s right to say it (and I need to say it more often in the course of a week than I do). However, the prayer’s origins are in a specific faith tradition (Christianity), and when said routinely at the beginning of each meeting, you have the a government endorsement of (establishment of) a preferred faith tradition.

    Anyone who wants to defend the continuation of such a tradition should ask herself how she would feel about government-sponsored prayer if the council was using a prayer something along these lines: “O Earth goddess, we ask that you teach us how to pay tribute to the spirits and divinity that exist in the trees and the wild animals and the soil of this Blessed Planet. Please endow us with all your blessings, for your kingdom shall prevail…” Or something like that.

    For the record: I just made that one up. Not praying it, not recommending it, not promoting it. Just trying to make a point. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer I love. But it IS a prayer. And its history is rooted in Christianity. You don’t find Jews praying it, nor (I’m guessing) Muslims, nor Hindus. Probably not practitioneers of traditional Native American religions, either. For the council members to claim that the Our Father is not rooted in Christian tradition and beliefs is disingenuous.

  2. Steve, I guess you find secular life fulfilling, I found it empty and meaningless. You want a secular public square even though our country was founded on Judeo Christian beliefs. I hope we don’t get what we deserve with thinking like that.

  3. Notgiven says:

    Steve, Steve, Steve,

    First of all, Jesus, a Jew, took the “Our Father” out of the Jewish faith tradition. When I was a chaplain associate in a public hospital setting, we had Jews and Native Americans that would pray the Our Father voluntarily, never forced. It’s a universal prayer which fits most faith traditions. It is a prayer that expresses the innermost longings of the human spirit.

    The Old Testament is replete with direct and indirect references to God as Our Father. To name a few, there is Deuteronomy 32:6c, “Is he not your father who created you?”; Tobit 13:4b-d, “Exalt him before every living being, because he is the Lord our God, our Father and God forever.”; Isaiah 63:15e-16a, “O Lord, hold not back, for you are our father.”; Isaiah 63:16d, You, Lord, are our father”; Malachi 2:10ab: “have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us?.

  4. JoanC57
    Where did you get this odd idea that our country was founded on Christian beliefs? Most of the Founding Fathers were Deists guided by the ideals of the Enlightenment and Free Masonry. To the extent that they were religious and sought state support for religion it was uniformly Protestant. The world you seem to long to return to is one where Catholics and Jews were second class citizens held in a combination of suspicion and contempt. I will pass thank you very much.

    The judge was exactly correct.

  5. naturgesetz says:

    I have heard a rabbi say that there is nothing in the Our Father that is inappropriate for a Jew to pray. Removing the double negative, he says it’s okay for Jews to pray.

  6. Notgiven says:

    Thank you for that, naturgesetz.

  7. +1 to Steve, except that I would go further: it’s an attempt to use faith as a winding cloth around government.

    One way to test the speciousness of the reasoning is to see how people would react to an entire council shouting “Allahu Akbar!” before beginning a meeting. If that would not be met with the same reaction as the Our Father, then the speciousness of the reasoning is made manifest. And, finally, to promote the Our Father with such specious reasoning is not virtuous, shall we say.

  8. Joan, I’m not trying to secularize the world at large. I have a strong faith (that needs to grow stronger, no doubt!), but I do not see the need to turn every public meeting into an opportunity to impose my faith (or anyone else’s faith) on all citizens who are part of that community. That doesn’t make me a secularist. Some of us simply believe in respecting the pluralism that is an important part of any democratic society.

    By the way, there’s nothing at all to stop individual council members from saying any prayer they wish outside of their official capacity as office holders during that meeting time. Even taking it a step further–a council member who finds that he’s getting frustrated and wants to seek God’s grace and pray for greater charity toward others can certainly say the Our Father silently even during the middle of the meeting. So no, I’m not a secularist who says that prayer and worship should be confined to the home or within the walls of a mosque, synagogue, or church. But I also don’t believe that a governmental body needs to, or should, embrace a particular faith tradition as part of an official meeting. (And if Jesus and the prayer he taught us is not at the core of Christianity, what is?)

  9. I agree with the judge’s decision, and with those above who have stated that the Lord’s Prayer is too intimately associated with Christianity to be considered universally appropriate (even if any expression of faith would be so considered). Certainly the wording of the prayer echoes Jewish liturgical language of the time—it has roots in common with the Kaddish, for example—but as he did with many other things, Jesus took that wording in a new direction. Muslims do not generally refer to Allah as Father, and the concepts of one God, heaven, and temptation, among others, are not common to other religious traditions. As we continue to negotiate religion and public life in the United States, it would be wrong to condemn this decision as persecution of religion.

  10. Prayer does not belong at public meetings of the civil government. There are not only a multiplicity of beliefs, but many non-believers. Our American system allows for all of them to be accommodated. There was a time when the Our Father would have even caused a ruckus among believers. I went to a public school for kindergarten. Our pastor admonished parents at mass one Sunday to make sure that we Catholics did not pray the Our Father at the opening of school each day, because “they use the Protestant Our Father, not the Catholic one”.
    I have heard of problems in the military, especially in the Air Force, with fundamentalist Christians having prayers before all sorts of activities at the Air Force academy, and then later when the airmen are in active duty. Those who do not participate or who complain are given a hard time by those of higher rank. We have a separation of Church and State in this country, and this is inappropriate.

  11. Judeo Christian Beliefs, Ad Orientem. Versus No God. Where in blazes do you conclude that I long to return to a world “where Catholics and Jews were second class citizens held in a combination of suspicion and contempt”.

    I need to stop commenting on these boards. This comment back is evidence that I completely fail to make cogent points. Total fail both ways. UGH.

  12. A reasonable judge would throw out the lawsuit…I’m sick and tired of liberals and progressives looking for any and all potential lawsuits.

  13. Actually virtually every judge, including those usually considered judicially and politically conservative, will not stand for blatant establishment clause violations like this.

  14. Actually, your hypothetical example of Goddess-based prayer is dead on. Many public prayer cases have been pushed by people lying about their intentions. They will say that they’re not trying to establish Christian sectarian prayer or identity of an elected body. Fine, the courts will say. Make it a truly inclusive practice and it will pass Constitutional muster. Sooner or later, a Wiccan applies to lead the opening prayer. All of a sudden, the board in question decides that you know, maybe public prayer isn’t such a good policy after all! That’s the most contemptible thing about most of the parties pushing for public prayer. They don’t even have the courage of conviction to be public about their own beliefs. Their intention, stated clearly in word and action outside of court, is to establish Christianity as the de-facto, if not formal religious identity of the United States. In legal documents, they play the wink and nod game of trying to say “this prayer/these symbols aren’t really religious, your honors. They’re just sort of happy generic all purpose affirmations that don’t really mean anything in particular to our religion”. They seem to feel their religion and god have so little power to persuade that they have to lie and wheedle to try and get it the official imprimatur of the state to elevate its profile.

  15. Oregon Catholic says:

    While I think prayers before public meetings are too problematic to be advisable, I find these lawsuits by atheists ironic. Atheism by almost every criteria is a religious belief. The fact it is a non-belief in Creator Being does not change that. Their God/Creator equivalent is science in which they have complete faith to ultimately answer all questions and provide life’s meaning just like any other religious or philosophical understanding. They can be said to worship the doctrine of materialism. We need to recognize it for what it is and how it has in fact become the de-facto state religion which they insist our government protect from intrusion by all others. If atheists had to argue in court from a position of a religious belief they could not hold sway and succeed in forcing other beliefs from the public square. They would have to share a place with every other religion.

  16. pagansister says:

    Excellent ruling on the part of the Judge. The prayer is just what is sounds like—a prayer prayed by Christians and this is not necessary in a public setting—governmental or otherwise.

  17. Not all of the lawsuits are brought by atheists, and none of the rulings issued against state-sponsored prayer or religious displays have ever mandated an official public policy of atheism. They have called for simple neutrality and non-favoritism of any kind in public proceedings. The founders and most outspoken advocates for church-state separation for the first few hundred years of the movement were devout Christians, to a man. Some of the bias suits or complaints today, especially those involving issues of proselytizing in the military, are brought by Christians upset about discrimination from other Christians. Many Christians still support separation because they believe that forcing religion into the public square cheapens it. I agree with them. One of the people who didn’t like putting “In God We Trust” on money was not some wild-eyed liberal atheist. It was a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. He felt putting God’s name on money was a sacrilege.

  18. pagansister says:

    Knew there was a reason I liked Teddy!

  19. I want to form a Group, I want it known now that THIS is AMERICA!!!! We all have the RIGHT to OUR own Prayers or NOT!!! If you are offended and DO NOT want to participate! Then DO NOT!! HOWEVER!!!! DO NOT think or even try to to TAKE away MY right to SAY The OUR FATHER… or to Pray in PUBLIC!!! Or even Read the BIBLE!!!! That IS MY RIGHT AS AN AMERICAN!!! I am SO SICK AND TIRED OF HEARING THIS !!!! I am SICK of THIS Happening!!! Why does ONE GROUP of People think THEY have the Right to decide for ALL AMERICANS!!! WE have Soldiers over Seas Fighting for our Rights!!! and Some of the People here in this Country are trying to take our RIGHTS away!!!! If You Do Not like the way things are here in AMERICA… You are so VERY welcome to find Another COUNTRY to go to!!!! and do NOT the the Statue of Liberty Hit you on your way OUT!!!!…… Furthermore….That is your right to be an Atheist… or whatever you want to call YOURSELF…. I just want to know why you think you have the right to try and take away MY right to pray or pay homage to MY LORD AND SAVIOR!!! I do not jump up and say Get out or anything… However… I have decided I will NOT be SILENT ABOUT THIS ANYMORE!!! I am very upset about this…. I am very Proud to be an AMERICAN! However… I am even MORE PROUD TO BE A CHILD OF GOD!!!! I will NOT Tolerate anyone trying to make ME NOT Say a Prayer Or to be able to say the Our Father or to read MY BIBLE in a PUBLIC place!!!! It is common courtesy to just be silent if you do not want to participate in this!!! I WILL NOT STOP DOING IT JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE IS OFFENDED!!!! PLEASE GET OVER YOURSELF!!!!

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