Judge Says No to Lord’s Prayer at Council Meetings

A federal judge in Delaware has issued a preliminary injunction in a case challenging the Sussex County Council’s policy of saying the Lord’s Prayer before all of their meetings, but he suspended that ruling to give the two sides time to work out a compromise. Americans United said in a press release:

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The Lord’s Prayer is a distinctly Christian religious exercise. Opening government meetings with that prayer – as the Sussex County Council did – violates the constitutional principle that government must not favor one religion over any other.”

Americans United filed the lawsuit in June 2011 on behalf of four Sussex County residents — the Rev. John Steinbruck, Barbara Mullin, Julie Jackson and William O’Connor. All plaintiffs in the lawsuit attend council meetings and were offended by the governmental body’s promotion of one religious perspective and disrespect of other faiths.

In his decision, Stark wrote, “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, sending a message to meeting attendees that the Council is promoting the beliefs of Christianity.”

Unfortunately, this is only a partial success. The Supreme Court has allowed pre-session prayers at state and local legislatures as long as those prayers are “non-sectarian.” So all they have to do is make the prayer to God instead of mentioning Jesus and, voila, it’s perfectly legal. So it’s okay to promote several religions at once — wink, wink — but not one.

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  • Gregory in Seattle

    “So it’s okay to promote several religions at once”

    Baptist, Southern Baptist, United Methodist, Free Methodist Lutheran Synod, Episcopal… but definitely not UCC or UUA. As for Islam, Judaism, Wicca and Flying Spaghetti Monster, well, those aren’t real religions to begin with.

  • jerthebarbarian

    So all they have to do is make the prayer to God instead of mentioning Jesus and, voila, it’s perfectly legal. So it’s okay to promote several religions at once — wink, wink — but not one.

    Yeah, but you’d think that folks would know this by now and have already picked a prayer that was boundary pushing but not an obvious “no you can’t do that” like the freaking Lord’s Prayer. I mean good Grod, if I were trying to pick the single most Christian prayer in the entire canon of Christian prayers it would be hard to pick one MORE overtly and exclusively Christian than the freaking Lord’s Prayer.

    You usually expect stealth actions prodding at the boundaries. This is just outright obviously exclusionary, and I’m surprised that it got all the way to court without someone deciding it would be cheaper to switch the prayer to something less exclusionary.

  • timberwoof

    In Utah a few years ago they tried banning all student organizations just so there could be no gay-straight alliance. We can only hope that city councils will ban all pre-meeting prayers just so that no Pastafarians get to deliver the prayer.

  • Pinky

    When they decide to let all religions do the pre-session prayer I’ll make a point to be there when the Native American Church starts passing out peyote.

  • baal

    One reason for the prayer is to add the color of god’s will to the proceedings – i.e. you don’t get to disagree with the outcome. W/o the prayer (god’s guiding hand), the xtians feel like the decisions won’t be as good (did Satan have an influence in that meeting?) and will be open to disagreement.

    very mental safety blanket

  • John Hinkle

    Hasn’t god had enough already with these liberal activist judges? If only there was something he could do about them.

  • Draken

    I wondered about Timberwoof’s remark and found this gem from 1997. That’s outrageous. Is it still in effect?

    Well never mind, those were the early days of the web, so nowadays anyone could start a weblog somewhere. But applying it to the prayer situation, it would translate to ‘ban all city councils so they can’t have a prayer’.

  • Uncle Glenny

    @Draken –

    That’s of a type of restriction that was quite common to keep GSAs out. I haven’t really followed ACLU/SPLC/NCAC like I used to last century, but I’d think there’s enough experience & precedent that they couldn’t get away with that now. Although clubs may require faculty sponsor & maybe some resource they could claim wasn’t available. (It’s more ACLU territory, too.)

  • F

    Huh? What sides? What compromise? There’s the Constitution, and there’s the folks violating it. What sort of in-between is there to work out here?

  • Alternate weeks’ prayers, maybe?

    Y’know, one week; “For this, LORD, we thank you, in JESUS’ name.

    And the next week, “Hey, y’all, let’s say a little prayer to Baal before we get to the minutes from last week. Those of you who brought your little ones will want to be up in the front, here.”.

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