When the state defines what constitutes legitimate religion, the free exercise of faith suffers and the government violates the establishment clause by defining legitimate religious practice. Just ask Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, who challenged the Affordable Care Act's stipulation that he offer emergency contraceptives as part of his employees' health benefits, abortion being contrary to his religious beliefs.
The Greece town council, apparently more interested in seeking approval from the state than from God, was willing to water down its prayers in order to maintain a "tradition" and win Supreme Court approval. Why not just pray "to whom it may concern"?
Justices tried to draw distinctions between the prayers said before opening sessions of Congress (OK because Congress gets to make its own rules and Members are free to join in, or not), and a Christian prayer uttered at a public high school graduation (ruled unconstitutional in 1992).
There is nothing to prevent and much to recommend elected officials praying in private before a meeting. If the intent is to seek God and His direction, that is the proper way to do it, according to no less an authority than Jesus of Nazareth, who said: "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:6)
Jesus also rebuked the Pharisees when He said in verse 5 of the same chapter: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full."
While public prayers may be constitutionally acceptable, according to the 5-4 majority, there is a Higher Power that takes a dimmer view of them.
God save (and put some common sense into) this honorable court and town councils everywhere. Maybe we should pray, privately, toward that end.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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