Following Marsh v. Chambers, some questioned whether the government could place limits on the types of public prayers that are offered. Likely well-intentioned officials began imposing restrictions on the content of the prayers because they believed that audiences would be more comfortable with a generic prayer. It was this sentiment that gave rise to Kennedy’s warning in Lee v. Weisman that government should not and cannot dictate a form of prayer.
Unfortunately, some courts have ignored his warning.
In 2011, one lower court scoffed at the notion that mandating a non-descript, religiously neutral prayer would create a challenge for local governments. But the Longview debacle demonstrates that demanding a person leave their faith at the door of city hall is indeed a real problem.
Since 2004, secularist groups like the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have brought 17 different federal lawsuits to prevent people from praying according to their personal beliefs. Instead, the secularists ask courts to banish the historic tradition outright or to so neuter prayers that they become meaningless.
In the next few weeks, the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to weigh in again on challenges to public prayer. The Town of Greece, N.Y. has asked the high court to reverse a federal appeals court decision striking down a prayer practice because too many of the prayers were Christian. Let’s pray the Supreme Court gets this one right.