Friday, June 6, 2008

Where does this leave us?

JT, Ryan, and I recently attended a City Council meeting in our hometown of Springfield, MO. At the beginning of the meeting a prayer was read.

We don't want to destroy any dialog with city council, but we all agreed that a prayer before a city meeting was an obvious violation of the First Amendment.

There is a set of questions that you have to ask to determine if a law/practice/proposal is respectful of the First Amendment. Referred to as the Lemon Test, it goes like this:
  1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.
If nothing else, a prayer before a meeting seems to directly kick the second statement in the teeth. Of course a prayer would advance the religion it was born from.

Or so I thought.

I was checking on the ACLU's website this morning... hoping to find a court ruling that already had shot down prayer before a city council meeting. What I found was an article by the ACLU saying that the prayer had to be non-sectarian.

It referenced several rulings, including Allegheny v. ACLU, and Rubin v. City of Burbank. Basically, they are allowed to say prayers, as long as they don't specifically reference any certain Gods.

While this is a great stride for the various religious sects, the ruling leaves us atheistic types out in the cold. In the rare case where an atheist has been allowed to lead the prayer or invocation before a meeting, the council has not stood by the Supreme Courts ruling.

In Tampa three council members walked out when an atheist signed up to lead the prayer. In Charleston seven council members couldn't deal with an atheist leading the invocation.

Where does this leave us? The Supreme Court has ruled that sectarian prayers or invocations are allowed. And yet, it is obvious that we could never expect to hear a invocation that is not intended to be a prayer to a higher power which we do not believe in. Is the right to NOT believe protected by our First Amendment, or has that slipped away from us??

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