Friday, the state Superior Court will hear arguments by the ACLU to forbid private citizens, in an unofficial capacity, to offer a brief prayer at city council meetings.
UPDATE 2/17/11 Court battles continue (video):
UPDATE 12/18/10: Judge rules for ACLU, bans prayer
-- From "Dispute over prayer during council meetings divides Point Pleasant Beach" by The Associated Press 12/12/10
For years, borough council meetings would begin with a reading of the Lord's Prayer by the town's clerk. But a resident's complaint led to a lawsuit that was dropped in October when the town agreed to replace the prayer with a moment of silence, then re-emerged after the . . . council then adopted a policy that allowed an individual council member to give an invocation of his or her choosing at each meeting, and the ACLU filed suit again.
The legal concepts are tinged with shades of gray. Borough attorney Kevin Riordan said the town is on firm footing based on a 1980s case in Middlesex County that allowed similar individual invocations. ACLU attorney Frank Corrado said any policy that allows for sectarian prayer violates the Constitution.
According to Brett Harvey of the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based organization that specializes in First Amendment issues and is advising Point Pleasant Borough, federal courts have focused on the context of a prayer, not the content, to decide its constitutionality.
Courts have held that a prayer such as those given before sessions of Congress is allowable as long as its purpose is not to proselytize or influence nonbelievers, he said.
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