Should public prayers be allowed during government functions?

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Image: Supreme Court by Envios via Flickr

“The U.S. Supreme Court delved into a subject Wednesday that has bedeviled it for decades: how to reconcile a tradition of public prayers with the Constitution’s ban on establishment of religion. At issue were almost exclusively Christian prayers that took place at town board meetings in Greece, N.Y.,” reports NPR’s Nina Totenberg.

The justices have struggled for decades with questions involving religious expressions that are connected to government. On the current court, conservatives have been willing to allow greater accommodation between government and religion. But the justices are closely divided, with Justice Anthony Kennedy often the decisive fifth vote.

For purposes of Wednesday’s case, the critical precedent is a 1983 decision that upheld nonproselytizing prayers in state legislatures.

Generally legislatures have been deemed different from courts or executive agencies. But even at the Supreme Court there is a daily invocation of God’s name. The court’s marshal opens each public session, intoning, “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

But what about explicitly sectarian prayers at local government meetings? Wednesday’s case, presenting that issue, involved two citizens who filed suit challenging the almost exclusively Christian prayers in the town of Greece.

Until 1999, the town opened its board meetings with a moment of silence. But when a new supervisor was elected, he instituted prayers from a rotating list of clergymen. For a decade, until the lawsuit, all of the clergymen and prayers were Christian.

One representative prayer was led by a Catholic priest, who opened the meeting with these words: “We acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We draw strength, vitality, and confidence from his resurrection at Easter. Jesus Christ, who took away the sins of the world, destroyed our death. Through his dying and in his rising, he has restored our life. Blessed are you, who has raised up the lord Jesus. You who will raise us, in our turn, and put us by his side.”

Today’s Question: Should public prayers be allowed during government functions?

  • Scott44

    You know to each thier own, just do not try and force me to pray or take an oath in Gods name. I will say this, I don’t mind people praying, I just don’t need to hear it.

  • Peter Farrell

    I think allowing it is disrespectful to those that don’t share the same beliefs. I think people forget that “it takes a village” to form a functional society. We are all different and being respectful of the differences make a huge… Well difference.

  • Sue de Nim

    This Christian is opposed to government prayers. I completely support removing official prayers from government functions. Such prayers must necessarily be regulated, and my participation in them would cede to the government a measure of authority over how I pray, which I will not do. As for official prayers in the public schools, I’m glad they’ve been abolished. I’m just fine with the government not being involved in teaching our kids how to pray.

  • Jim G

    A moment of silence, meditation, and reflection is a good practice for starting any public meeting. However, praying to a specific deity whether it is Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Vishnu, Buddha, etc. crosses the line and offends any followers of the deities not being invoked. I suggest sticking to the moment of silence; 10 seconds is a long time for any public gathering to be silent.

  • KTN

    Sponsored prayer has no place in government functions, legislative or judicial, although I am less troubled by allowing an opening prayer at the Supreme Court.
    Like school prayer, the issue gets lost in the black and white. Nobody is saying you can’t pray in school, in fact you can pray all day long (although your grades might suffer), you can pray you ace your math test, or the cute boy asks you to prom, to say a child cannot pray in school is wrong. Same with opening a legislative session. If you want to pray your bill passes, go ahead, knock yourself out, but don’t expect to have an opening prayer, especially one by one denomination, be allowed.

  • Rich in Duluth


    Prayer belongs in your church or the privacy of your own home. The example prayer shown above is obvious government endorsement of a particular religion…Christianity.

  • mason

    This atheist has no problem with it. They are just words and have no power over anything. The idea of regulating certain speech patterns is antithetical to freedom of expression.

    In case of this story, if someone wants to say a Muslim, Hindi, or whatever else prayer, I’ll just roll my eyes at you too.

  • PaulJ

    Those employees are paid to use their freedom of speech to debate tax/spend and control of violence, not to display their views on eschatology. So how about nose to grindstone and not brimstone.

  • reggie

    I agree with Jim. I would willingly begin a public meeting with a moment of silence to reflect on the good we might do together. We can each silently invoke whatever inspires us. Just keep the specifics to ourselves. (Ten seconds of silence seems much longer than ten seconds. Thirty seconds of collective silence might be downright scary.)

  • Ralfy

    Read the Bill of Rights. Then read it again. We are protected from the government prohibiting our religious choices, and we are protected from the government making our religious choices. Any activity that involves religion should never be part of a government function. Any activity that is supported by tax dollars is a government function.

  • JQP

    If individuals want to personally pray they are at liberty to do so on their own time and in their own space. Government officials should neither promote nor denigrate religion in the completion of their duties, nor as a formal part of civil proceedings, business or decisions.

    A government that enforces religion , enslaves it as well.

  • Jamie

    Sure. There is no reason a non-denominational prayer can’t be said. After all, our founding documents acknowledge that certain rights are endowed by our creator.

    On the other hand, associating anything that happens later in those meetings with the prayer said up front is most likely an affront to the aforementioned Creator, so maybe not.

  • Philip Benson

    From the lord’s prayer:
    Sanctioning causality’s will and giving one another what we need without pursuing payment for advertised goods and services is prudent for all nations, for causality’s logic is the ruler and optimizer for eternity. So be it.

  • guest

    No. We are not a religious country. We are a secular state in which religion and the power of religion to do good is an illusion. Greed and self-concern is our mantra. Give me a break with the prayers and the God bless America business..

  • AndyBriebart

    If they get rid of The Creator, then the rights that were endowed on us by Our Creator, will go too. That’s what they want. You can be loyal to two gods, the god called government is a jealous god.

    • kevins


  • Tasha

    Sure if you allow all participants to pray in their way, and acknowledge all religions present.

  • Ricardo

    A time for private prayer would be OK but we have to acknowledge the fact that many different religions exist and that we also have the right to believe in no religion at all. So make it a personal thing where those who choose to pray have the option and those who choose not to can think about something else. OR you could demand that everyone prays and those who do not pray, those who not pray properly or those who do not pray to the proper god could be beheaded. Maybe we could change the constitution to reflect same. Good luck coming to a consensus on the criteria. 8^)

  • TJeff

    “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?” –Thomas Jefferson (1781)