During the Supreme Court session that ended on June 30, 2018, the Court chose not to hear, among others, two cases which were decided at the lower court levels with conflicting outcomes. Both of these cases had to do with prayer at public meetings. In one case, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that it was constitutional for School Board meetings to begin with student-led prayers that were predominantly Christian. In another case, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that it was unconstitutional for a County Commissioners meeting to begin with prayers offered by the Commissioners themselves who were predominantly Christian.
As recently as 2014, the Supreme Court had ruled on prayers to open public meetings. In that case (Town of Greece v. Galloway), the Court ruled that “Americans should have the freedom to pray without being censored, even when opening public meetings.” However, the 4th Circuit Court decisions goes against that previous ruling. The Supreme Court has therefore let stand two decisions which are in conflict with one another.
The Supreme Court has become the final arbiter of what is constitutional and what is not. In the two cases they declined to hear, they let stand two lower court decisions which are in conflict with one another. The question then becomes: under what circumstances can a prayer (invocation) be given at a public meeting? The last case upon which the Court did rule is the 2014 case in which they said essentially that as long as there is an opportunity for people attending the meeting to “opt out”, and as long as the meeting format provides an opportunity for a variety of faiths to provide the invocation; then the invocation before a public meeting is constitutional.
It is unfortunate that these types of cases keep coming up, and the fault lies squarely with the Supreme Court and its unwillingness to provide a “general guideline” which covers all public meetings. The Court has chosen rather to rule on each individual case, causing confusion. They are “splitting hairs” on this issue. Therefore questions still arise such as: is it okay to pray at a public school event? Is it alright to pray at a school board meeting if members of the board pray or if a student leads the prayer? At City Council and County Commissioners meetings, is it acceptable to have clergy lead a prayer, or is it okay if a member of the Council or Board of Commissioners leads the prayer? The Court has arrived at different decisions on each of these instances or rejected cases that have been decided by lower courts that have ruled.
Prior to 1962 it was okay to pray in school and any other public meeting. Since that time it became “unconstitutional”. Similar issues have arisen with regard to the display of the Ten Commandments, with the Court deciding that some “versions” of the Commandment are “denominational” and therefore promote one religion over another and thus cannot be displayed on public land.
The Court has gradually moved toward eliminating God from the public square and the results are easy to see today. Other countries have followed suit and again the results have not been good. When God disappears from the lives of people, the population loses its sense of direction and priorities. It happened over and over again to the Hebrews when they got to Israel. Anyone who reads and understands the Old Testament knows what consequences befell the Hebrews.
The lessons in the Old Testament are clear and obvious. When people turn their backs on God, He will wait for a time to see if people repent and turn back to Him; but if not He will provide a “reminder”.Tags: 4th Circuit Court, prayer, Supreme Court