Jewish Journal


January 17, 2012

Supreme Court leaves in place rulings that ban invoking Jesus in government meeting prayers



Photo by Wikipedia/Jeff Kubina

The U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in two government prayer cases today. Both involved prayer at local government meetings—the invocations that I’ve discussed here and here—that tend to be religion-neutral in name but Christo-centric in practice. Bloomberg reports:

The justices today left intact a federal appeals ruling that said a North Carolina county board was violating the constitutional separation of church and state by opening most of its sessions with a Christian prayer. The high court also refused to review a separate decision that barred prayers at meetings of a Delaware school board.

The Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on the constitutionality of prayer at government meetings since 1983, when the justices said lawmakers could begin sessions with nonsectarian prayers offered by a state-employed chaplain.


In the North Carolina case, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners used private religious leaders to deliver its prayers, each year inviting members of various faiths to sign up on a first-come, first-served basis to deliver an invocation.

The result tended to be prayers that were predominantly Christian. From May 29, 2007, to Dec. 15, 2008, almost 80 percent of the prayers referred to Jesus, according to the decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

That’s a pretty common result. What’s never been clear to me is whether it’s by design or a coincidence based on the fact that the majority of Americans are Christians.

The Delaware case also might sound familiar. That’s the one in which the county’s attorneys claimed that the Lord’s Prayer “is as generic and universal a prayer as can be crafted, inoffensive in its non-denominational textual statements of supplication and belief, and as all-inclusive as a prayer may reasonably be.”

Read the rest of the Bloomberg report here and see Howard Friedman prior discussion of both cases here and here.

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