RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll respondents are closely divided on the issue of public prayer, with a slight majority—52 percent—supporting prayer at government meetings.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case involving the role of prayer at government meetings.
The case concerns a 2008 lawsuit filed against the Town Board and Supervisor John Auberger by two residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, over the board’s practice of starting its meetings with a short prayer. Before this practice began in 1999, Greece Town Board meetings had started with a moment of silence.
Galloway and Stephens said the prayer practice violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause—which bars the establishment of a national religion or U.S. government preference of one religion over others. They say the prayers were nearly always Christian and often included direct references to Jesus Christ.
U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, relying in large part on the Supreme Court’s 1983 decision in Marsh v. Chambers that the Constitution allows so-called legislative prayer that does not proselytize or denigrate another faith.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, however, holding that while a local government can open its public meetings with a prayer or invocation, it cannot do so in a way that endorses a particular religion. Responding to the town’s argument that anyone—even atheists—may ask to give an invocation and that no one has been denied, the appeals court said “in practice, Christian clergy members have delivered nearly all of the prayers.”
It concluded that the board’s prayer practice and the “the steady drumbeat of often specifically sectarian Christian prayers” associated the town with the Christian religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the case next year.
Roughly 825 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted Nov. 4 and 5.
In your view, should prayer be a part of government meetings?
In the town of Greece case, whose position do you support?
Town of Greece: 51%
The two residents who challenged the Town Board’s prayer practice: 42%
Don’t know: 7%
What’s happening in Greece only looks acceptable if you’re a Christian who assumes everyone else believes just as you do. If one steps outside their bubble, it’s obvious the system is rigged in favor of Jesus. That’s no way to run a government meeting where not everyone believes what you do. The only question now is whether the Supreme Court has the good sense to recognize the injustice.
—Damian Kumor, Webster
If you don’t believe in prayer, then don’t participate in the prayer. No one will force you to pray. But for those who wish to pray, I believe they should be allowed to continue to pray at government meetings.
Separation of church and state. This is not a Christian country. Let’s all behave accordingly.
—C. Lewis, Perinton
While some public institutions begin their meetings with “non-denominational” prayer, there is no rationale in which this is necessary or even recommended. Prayer is personal and in a group setting should be confined to a house of worship, where those attending should expect sectarian prayers and worship. Why continue a “tradition” that may offend some and possibly be unconstitutional? It does not elevate the meeting, nor does it determine that the results of the meeting will be thoughtful, fair and just. The town of Greece should get out of the prayer business, rid itself of this headache and focus on the town’s business of providing its residents with means to address its representatives and provide appropriate services.
—Michael L. Harf
Prayer is a privilege of our country. Prayer is not a part of governance. If elected officials wish to pray, they may do so in the privacy of their own home. Prayer at public meetings is strictly for show: “See, I’m righteous.” Let prayer be private and sincere, not public for publicity.
—Wayne Donner, Rush
A prayer may be the only sane thing to happen at some of these meetings!
Religions of all denominations provide us with hope and a moral compass. The benefits of an opening invocation far outweigh the detriment of banning it.
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency Inc.
Absolutely no place for prayer at government meetings. Recite the Pledge of Allegiance, play the national anthem, or sing “God Bless America” instead.
Why remove it? There are a lot of things going wrong with this country. It seems like we need God helping America more than ever.
—David Mammano, Next Step Education Group
Separation of church and state has been bedrock of our nation since its founding. Trying to force religion into any governmental process is just plain wrong.
The roots of this country are Judeo-Christian. The founders of the United States of America were not focused so much on religion but the Judeo-Christian beliefs that the individual has inalienable rights granted by God, which even government cannot take. This was the basis of the Declaration of Independence. The town of Greece recognizes this and has offered other denominations the opportunity of prayer. Also, prayer at its worst will help counter the moral decay of the current culture. Therefore, the town of Greece is in the right!
—John Rynne, Greece resident
The residents should request a referendum vote on the issue and then abide by it. I disagree that two residents should have the right to stop a tradition that has harmed no one.
Yes, but such prayer is difficult to prepare. At best it is succinct, sincere and transcendent. At worst it is verbose, contrived and self-serving.
—Roy Kiggins, Seneca Falls
While I’d prefer to just get on with the meeting, it’s not as if anyone is forced to participate in the praying.
Political correctness is becoming the bane of my existence. My business involves attending many public meetings in many towns. I especially like attending meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance, which are becoming fewer yearly. If an American can’t pledge allegiance to the flag and our country, they can stand quiet, leave the room or leave our great country. If they don’t want to say a prayer, then do the above. This PC stuff is ruining our country.
—Daniel Mossien, architect
Prayer should be allowed as long as it is a prayer for "better government."
— Al Kempf
This is a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Similar cases have been upheld over the years in the U.S. Supreme Court reinforcing the separation of church and state. There is zero ambiguity when it comes to this issue. Government at all levels should be strictly secular. Religion is a personal choice.
So, just who is it that the court thinks the atheists are going to pray to? Isn't sectarian Christian prayer an oxymoron? So, we don't need to let anybody but the candidates from the two major parties debate, but we must include all religions and those not running for a seat in Heaven? Brought to you from the makers of Obamacare.
A sculpture of the Ten Commandments hangs in the Supreme Court. Our money: ones, twos, fives, 10s and 20s (that's all I had in my wallet) have printed on them, "In God We Trust." Many presidents have taken their oath of office on the Lincoln Bible, even our current one. Our First Amendment guarantees us "freedom of religion," not "freedom from religion." It sounds like the Greece Town Board has made every effort to be fair to all religions. So even after the Supreme Court decision next year, we'll be pledging "allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one nation “under God.”
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services
Invoking the name of God has been a practice and tradition since the founding of this nation. Those two women need history lessons, and should be ashamed of themselves. Such a colossal waste of time and money the rest of us must pay for! Wear earplugs, ladies!
—George Thomas, Ogden
The idea that begging a specific deity for intervention as a formal part of any government function does not breach the wall of separation between church and state is patently absurd. No one has yet given a coherent explanation for this beyond "it's traditional.” Even the Supreme Court doesn't give any explanation beyond "it's traditional.” I don't remember seeing an exception for tradition in the Bill of Rights.
—Matthew D. Wilson
Don’t we have anything else more important than this to waste time and money on? Really. We are in a tailspin, and no one sees it. Don’t forget: No Christmas trees, no Christmas songs, no candle lighting, no menorahs, no celebrations at all as those who don’t believe in anything win. If you don’t like it, don’t participate in it. It’s that simple; move on.
—D. Topian, WREA
To quote Mike Johnson of the Alliance Defense Fund: "Our country’s Founding Fathers opened their meetings with prayer. Those who oppose Christian invocations are essentially arguing that the Founders were violating the Constitution as they were writing it.” It shouldn't surprise us when men seek to ban the very practice that can help them. Since the 1960s, our country has been running headlong under the banner of calling good evil and evil good.
—Steve Wichtowski, Honeoye
They the two, just do not need to join in prayer, or just leave. Why do the rest of the 99.9 percent have to comply to these 0.1 percent? They just want some attention. Why don't they attend church on Sunday and learn how to pray?
I believe that prayer could be part of government meetings as long as all participants agree to it. If there are participant objections, the prayer should then be omitted. In my opinion, prayer is a good thing. There are many diverse religious beliefs in our community; some people might be uncomfortable with prayer outside of their traditional established, church, temple, mosque, etc. It is unfortunate that the courts need to intervene in a situation such as this. Why couldn't the matter be resolved between the objectors and the Greece Town Supervisor? Common courtesy along with common sense could have potentially solved the problem without the courts.
—L.S. Decker, MVP Health Care
Since the country's founding, God—in whatever form—has been a critical part of all public meetings. Why must we subject ourselves to a few minor "malcontents"? I'll go along with what the courts declare.
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield
Ronald Reagan said that when we forget that we are a nation under God, we will be a nation gone under. Our government was born out of prayer. We lament the direction of our nation and government but when we appeal for divine wisdom and guidance to address our problems, someone cries foul. Joseph Stalin said that "America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality, and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within." God help us.
Elected officials who act like those in Greece need to seek the forgiveness of the residents. There is no reason to have prayer for a secular activity. Render onto Caesar that which is Caesar's, but render onto God that which is God's.
—Wayne Shipman, Ship Sharp
The question should be, should prayer be allowed, not should prayer be a part of. Posing the question as you did biases the answer. I think that a prayer is fine, especially if all beliefs are granted access. I think each town board should supply the answer. As I understand the case, any faith has been allowed to offer up an invocation or even a moment of silence. Once again, you have a few people with too much time and liberal money on their hands trying to spoil life for the majority.
—Michael Higgins, Rochester
I think individual towns should set the format for their town board meetings. This way, the people running for town board could make their stance known and the people could take that into consideration when they vote. I don't think it is appropriate for two, 10 or 200 people to dictate the format for town meetings. Let the population of the town decide, by voting. The argument of Constitutional adherence to the separation between church and state is shallow in this instance. Common sense should prevail and not the voice of activism and dissent. I challenge our investigative journalists to follow the trail of backers supporting the people opposed to invoking the blessing of a higher power. I suspect that behind the scenes are the people or organizations opposed to our democratic republic way of life. This country needs more prayer, not less. I'll say a prayer for the two ladies involved, that they may find peace and a worthy cause to support that actually helps people.
It seems as though as our society systematically removes any acknowledgment of God, and therefore prayer, we continue to see increased violence and all sorts of negative behaviors. Coincidence?
—Amy Porpilia, Roberts Wesleyan College
Why not pray? It provides a moment of calm in an otherwise stormy national political climate. And we must concede that we need all the help we can get.
—Bob Worden, Penn Yan
Prayer has been a part of our nation's history for more than 230 years. It is interwoven in our very beings and called upon during times of hardship and prosperity. It has worked so far.
Having a moment of personal reflection might be a better idea. It's not “religion-specific." It can be a time for someone to pray, to remember someone they love, maybe just take a much needed 60-second nap.
—Rich Calabrese Jr., Rochester
Separation of church and state was a primary concern of our nation's founders expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. This two-part mandate protects an individual's right to worship in his or her chosen faith, and also protects us from a government imposing a singular religious tradition on its citizens. This core concept has sustained our democracy and is critical to the integrity of a free society. Just look at those places around the globe now and in the past where government aligns with one particular religious practice. Over time oppression and war have ensued. With this in mind, I believe that prayer can be part of a government ceremony or the opening of a session of Congress or a local town board meeting, but it must include broad representation among religions or take a nondenominational approach.
—Sandra L. Frankel, former supervisor of the Town of Brighton
While I no longer prescribe to any one particular religion, I do feel that government bodies should have the right to begin meetings with prayers if they wish, rather than being forbidden to do so. Of course it makes sense to offer prayers from a variety of the world's religions in the sake of equality. It also makes sense that if people in attendance find prayers to be offensive, they exercise their option to excuse themselves from the meeting and return after the prayer portion has ended. The women bringing this suit are not even residents of the Town of Greece, so I question their motives.
—Linda Gallagher, MVP Health Care
Has anyone noticed that the further this country runs from the God of the Bible—the God of our forefathers, the God on whose precepts this country's initial values were based—that the worse every aspect of society becomes? This in no coincidence. Let them pray. Our leaders certainly need Godly wisdom to guide them through this turbulent time in our country's history.
We should pray (in our own way) for the government to receive the divine gift of common sense.
As long as we are willing to accept an atheist speaking or a Muslim prayer, I don't see this as violating the First Amendment.
"In God We Trust.” That pretty much says it. When we vacate that premise, this country is in big trouble.
Yes, as long as Christian.
We as a people need divine guidance in all we do. Our way of governing exists because of God and his teachings through his son, Jesus Christ. Our Constitution allows for the freedom of religion allowing the government to put no limits on its free exercise.
—Bruce Anderson, Alpha & Omega Parable Christian Stores
Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. If the entity chooses to pray, so be it. If some members do not wish to do so, that is their right. To deny those who wish to pray is unconstitutional. That goes for those invited to lead prayers and to the members of the group.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
1. Two people in the Town of Greece objected to the prayer over a 20-year period. The other 100,000 or so residents had no objections over 20 years. This is a Democracy. Majority rules. Two vs. 100,000 is a landslide loss. Sorry! 2. Two people should not be allowed to impose their religious views on the rest. This forces atheism on everyone else. 3. Which religion is being established as the government enforced religion in Greece? Catholic? Methodist? Lutheran? Baptist? A single prayer does not establish a religion.
Republicans use this issue i.e. prayer and local government to further divide us. It's a wedge issue, although they claim it's just for religious reasons that they want to do this. I oppose any coordination of church and state efforts to support prayer before or after meetings. If people want to pray they can do it on their own time and on their own property or your own church. What this effort implies is if you don't pray with us you must be somehow anti-American.
—Peter Bonenfant, Fairport
Faith is highly personal and individual. The impression that a government entity, even inadvertently, sanctions a specific religious tradition must be avoided in every circumstance. Diversity is what makes this country great. So let’s embrace diversity of faith in a generic sense and keep it out of government. Look at the human rights abuses in countries where religious zealots control the government, or hope to overthrow secular democratically elected leaders. Perhaps it is acceptable to use the word "God" in a generic sense, as in "In God We Trust" but it is very dangerous to liberty to ascribe "God" in government to a specific faith tradition.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
Religion has no place in government, and government has no place in religion. The separation of church and state was a founding principal for our country. We do not favor one religion over another, nor do we judge people based on what religion they are nor force a religious experience on someone who does not desire it.
The “Pledge of Allegiance” should suffice.
—Bill Brice, Mitchell Pierson Jr. Realtors
Every religion prays, and anyone who participates in the prayer can choose to pray in their own way to their God. Those who do not believe can choose to not participate.
—John Durst, AIM
Prayer is prayer, and it is connected to religion. It does not matter which religion. The United States of America has a separation of church and state. Keep it separate. Have your prayers at a different time that is outside of the business of the country, state, county, village and hamlet.
Let's be clear, if a Muslim government official started every meeting with a verse from the Koran, there would be outrage. The same with a Catholic reciting a Hail Mary at every opening would be taken to task. A moment of reflection or silence is adequate for these government gatherings. I am always amazed that so much time is spent arguing about praying and so little time spent doing prayerful activities. “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”--Mahatma Gandhi
—Michael Thornton, Rochester
11/8/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.