Republicans and the Obama administration have finally found an issue they both can agree on. Oddly enough, it seems that both factions agree that town councils should be allowed to open their meetings with a Christian prayer. In separate arguments to the Supreme Court earlier this week, lawyers from both groups asked the court to relax the constitutional limits on religious invocations at government meetings.
The court is ruling about whether an upstate New York town’s practice of holding a Christian prayer before official meetings constitutes an endorsement of that particular religion. The Obama administration told the court that the prayer should not be considered an endorsement. The prayer "does not amount to an unconstitutional establishment of religion merely because most prayer-givers are Christian and many or most of their prayers contain sectarian references," wrote U.S. Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr.
The court now has the opportunity to reverse a set of opinions that were written in the '80s by then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She ruled that government actions would violate the First Amendment if they appeared to "endorse" religion. Her determination has led to policies such as government agencies not being allowed to display the Ten Commandments in their buildings or host Nativity scenes at Christmas.
In addition to the administration’s request, 85 House members and 34 senators also urged the court to make clear that prayers and religious invocations are constitutional.
"It's gratifying that even the Obama administration recognizes that courts are not qualified to censor prayers,” said Ken Klukowski, a lawyer for the Family Research Council.
Not everyone shares that view, The LA Times reported.
"This is a big deal of a case because of what it could mean," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It makes the administration's position doubly disappointing. A town council meeting is not like a church service, and it shouldn't be treated like it is."