Jerry Newcombe

The Supreme Court has heard arguments this week about whether prayers at government meetings, for example, a town council, can include the name of Jesus.

The case is Galloway v. City of Greece (which is a suburb of Rochester, NY), and it will likely be decided in the summer (or possibly spring) of 2014. The case could potentially have strong ramifications for this nation, especially in light of our extensive Christian heritage.

Jesus told His followers to pray in His name. That’s why people pray “in Jesus’ name. Amen” Or, as is often heard in the Book of Common Prayer (from the Anglican Church, which was very influential in the founding of America), “through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” George Washington was an avid reader of the Book of Common Prayer.

Different judicial circuits have ruled in ways that contradict each other on this issue. Hence, the Supreme Court’s decision to clarify the matter.

One could wonder why there would even be prayers at all (much less prayers in the name of Jesus) at government settings in the first place. But we should keep in mind that, historically, opening legislative sessions or town councils often began in prayer and mostly in Jesus’ name.

When the ACLU challenged the notion of chaplains---paid by the state to offer prayers, Christian or otherwise---the case went all the way to the Supreme Court in the 1980s. The prayers won; the ACLU lost. In Marsh v. Chambers, the Court, said, We had chaplains before we were a nation.

Our tradition of praying in Jesus’ name in public shouldn’t surprise us, since at the time of Independence, 99.8% of colonists were professing Christians (“Policy Review,” Fall ‘88, p. 44).

The same Congress that gave us the First Amendment, now used to suppress prayers and other religious expression, were the same men who hired chaplains for the Senate and the House of Representatives. The US Capitol building was used from its beginning until the 1880s for Christian worship services on Sunday. Presidents Jefferson and Madison often attended these.

The first time the Continental Congress met, they wondered if the next day (9/7/1774) they should open their proceedings in prayer. Virtually all were Christian, but different Christian groups can pray in different ways. Samuel Adams said he was no “bigot.” He could hear a prayer from a man who loved his God and his country. So they opened with a lengthy Bible-reading (Psalm 35) and fervent prayer in Jesus’ name from a local Episcopal minister, Jacob Duche.

Jerry Newcombe

Dr. Jerry Newcombe is a key archivist of the D. James Kennedy Legacy Library and a Christian TV producer.