Supervisors resume opening meetings with prayer
by Larry S. Chowning
For the first time since September 2013, the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors opened its regular monthly meeting Tuesday with a prayer. Board chair Jack Miller said the prayer and thanked God for a “country where free speech is honored.”
Before September 2013, the saying of a prayer to open Board of Supervisors meetings had been a long-standing tradition in Middlesex. However, due to the threat of legal action on the grounds that saying the prayer was illegal, county attorney Mike Soberick recommended suspending the tradition.
At that time, it was noted that a pending case in the U.S. Supreme Court (Town Greece, New York, vs. Galloway, et al) would determine if prayers at government meetings were legal, or if they were in violation of the Establishment Clause (separation of church and state) of the U.S. Constitution.
On Monday, May 5, the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 on the side of Greece, N.Y., which, in effect, meant that opening government meetings with a sectarian prayer does not violate the Establishment Clause as long as no specific religion is advanced or disparaged, and residents are not coerced into participating.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and his honorable court’ at the opening of this court’s sessions.”
The Supreme Court went on to say that “the content of the prayer is not of concern to judges provided there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance anyone, or to disparage another faith or belief.”
“The board does not force anyone to participate and would not single anyone out or consider the fact of non-participation in prayer on any matters coming before the board,” Soberick wrote. “Prayer simply is intended to put the board in a solemn and deliberate frame of mind provoking divine guidance in county affairs, and follows a tradition practiced by United States Congress and dozens of state legislatures.”
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