Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sandra Day O'Connor, Federal Judges Bar Praying "in Jesus's Name"

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that a Fredericksburg City [Virginia] Council member may not pray "in Jesus's name" during council meetings because the opening invocation is government speech.

UPDATE 1/16/09: Supreme Court Won't Restore Christian Prayer

-- From "Court Rules in Prayer Case" in the Washington Post 7/24/08

The Rev. Hashmel Turner, a Baptist minister, sued the city in 2006 after it passed a policy requiring invocations to be nondenominational. His attorneys argued that the government was effectively writing prayer if it told Turner how to pray.

Turner lost in trial court, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld that verdict unanimously.

The opinion, written by retired U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, said courts have found legislative prayers constitutional when they are "designed to include members of the community, rather than to proselytize."

Judith E. Schaeffer, legal director for the People for the American Way Foundation, one of the groups representing the city, said, "Today's ruling is a vindication of the constitutional principle that the government must not take sides when it comes to religion."

-- Continuing from "O'Connor: City properly excluded Christian prayer" © 2008 WorldNetDaily 7/24/08

The dispute arose when Turner, a resident of Fredericksburg, Va., and a member of the town council, was part of a rotation of council members who took turns bringing a prayer at the council meetings. He ended his prayers "in Jesus name."

That, however, offended a listener, who prompted the involvement of several activist groups that threatened a lawsuit if the elected Christian council member continued to be given the same rights to choose how to pray as other council members.

The city then adopted a non-sectarian prayer requirement, imposing a ban on any reference to "Jesus."

"Turner was not forced to offer a prayer that violated his deeply-held religious beliefs. Instead he was given a chance to pray on behalf of the government," O'Connor wrote.