To Whom It May Concern: Supreme Court Case to Determine Acceptable Public Prayers

By Joseph LaRue

Prayer is important to most of us. One study suggested that ninety percent of Americans pray daily. I’ve observed that most Americans pray from time to time, at least when we are facing problems. It is a rare person who has never said a prayer to God. Whether we are asking God to heal a sick relative, thanking Him for His blessings, or asking Him to help us find our car keys, we pray. And over the course of our lifetimes, we pray a lot.

What we don’t do, however, is pray generically. We don’t begin our prayers saying, “To whom it may concern.” No; when we pray, we have a specific faith tradition in mind. This is true for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and members of all faiths. We pray in keeping with our religious beliefs. That’s what makes prayer “real” to us.

With that as background, let me tell you about an important case before the United States Supreme Court. It is Town of Greece v. Galloway, and it asks the Court whether it is still okay to open government meetings with a prayer as chosen by the prayer giver. Greece, New York, did that. It invited the public to sign up to pray as their conscience led them, and let them pray to any deity they want. Because Greece has a majority-Christian population, many of the prayers were “Christian” prayers, but  non-Christian prayers were offered, too. The city even allowed those who did not believe in God to participate by giving an inspirational talk during prayer time. The wording of the prayers, or talks, was completely up to those giving them.

Two people, however, were not happy with this open prayer policy. So they sued, saying that allowing people to pray as they wish in a government meeting violates the so-called “separation of church and state” and is unconstitutional.

How can this act of praying before legislative meetings be unconstitutional when Congress has always opened with prayer, and still does today?  The people who authored the First Amendment prayed during their meetings of Congress, and continued doing so after the First Amendment was ratified. Surely the Framers of the First Amendment didn’t think opening legislative sessions with prayer was unconstitutional.

The lower court that heard Town of Greece v. Galloway agreed, sort of. It found that the Constitution allows for legislative bodies to begin their meetings with prayer. But it ruled that the Town of Greece’s practice was a problem because too many people chose Christian prayers.

It was the content of the prayers the court found bothersome. But this ruling would place the Town, or any governing body, in the position of prayer monitor and censor. The only “acceptable” prayers under this model would be generic prayers

No believer, no matter their faith, should be satisfied with such an outcome. What makes prayer meaningful is the sense that we are speaking to a real Being. This is true not only for Christians, but also for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and members of all religions. Praying a To Whom It May Concern type prayer to some generic god we don’t actually believe in doesn’t have the same meaning, no matter one’s religion.

Alliance Defending Freedom is asking the United States Supreme Court to overturn the lower court decision in Galloway. The Supreme Court should reaffirm that the government—including courts—cannot censor the language people use when they pray. Public prayers do not and should not be generic. People should be free to pray and refer to the god in whom they actually believe.

If you support public prayer and think this valuable tradition should continue, sign the Statement of Support for prayer.

To learn more about the case and what’s at stake, visit www.FreeToPray.com.

Author: Alliance Defending Freedom