Supreme Court rejects government prayer case

Jan. 17, 2012 at 3:06 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court passed up the chance Tuesday to decide whether sectarian prayers can be used as invocations before government meetings.

The rejection of the case left in place a lower-court ruling against the invocations using Jesus' name in Forsyth County, N.C. The invocation at a county commission meeting, given by a local minister, used the language, "For we do make this prayer in Your Son Jesus' name, Amen," and made a number of references to specific tenets of Christianity, from "the Cross of Calvary" to the "Virgin Birth" to the "Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Two women who attended the session filed suit, saying the invocation and the policy that allowed it were unconstitutional.

Eventually, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed in a 2-1 vote.

The majority said Supreme Court precedent, and its own circuit precedents, "establish that in order to survive constitutional scrutiny, invocations must consist of the type of non-sectarian prayers that solemnize the legislative task and seek to unite rather than divide. Sectarian prayers must not serve as the gateway to citizen participation in the affairs of local government. To have them do so runs afoul of the promise of public neutrality among faiths that resides at the heart of the First Amendment's religion clauses."

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