On Wednesday, July 23, 2008, in Turner v. City Council of Fredericksburg, (4th Cir., July 23, 2008), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of appeals upheld the policy of Fredericksburg, Virginia’s city council requiring prayers which open its sessions to be non-denominational. In an opinion by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, sitting by designation on the case, the court held that legislative prayer is government speech. The city’s policy was challenged by Hashmel Turner, a Baptist minister who was elected to city council. When his turn to offer an invocation came, Turner wanted to close by praying in the name of Jesus. The court held that council’s policy precluding such prayer violates neither the Establishment Clause nor Turner’s free exercise rights. The court concluded:
Turner was not forced to offer a prayer that violated his deeply-held religious beliefs. Instead, he was given the chance to pray on behalf of the government. Turner was unwilling to do so in the manner that the government had proscribed, but remains free to pray on his own behalf, in nongovernmental endeavors, in the manner dictated by his conscience. His First Amendment and Free Exercise rights have not been violated.
Here are longtime religious liberty advocate John Stevens’ thoughts on this decision:
The decision is interesting. It approved a nondenominational prayer and that it is better than approving a denominational prayer. But it is nondenominational due to the fact that there are religious people who do not believe in Christ so the Councilman insisting on prayer in Jesus name was out of order.
They use the word God and that is common with Christians and Jews but many other religions have different names so they take a back seat. Atheists and non believers are not even seated. Like Hindus and Buddhists, etc. (Give me your tired, your poor, as long as they are Christians) Maybe they are sitting on the floor or in the lobby. The highest seat belongs to Christians, the seat Jesus advised us not to seek but to take the lower seat.
I view prayers and invocations at governmental meetings, particularly before the public, as hypocritical. It is professed Christians who claim to be followers of Jesus and therefore they must show their loyalty to their Saviour by praying in public.
In reality, if the council sought the guidance of God in their decisions why not have a private meeting before assembling before the public and pray, as it were “in secret,” like their Example exhorted His followers. Politicians today are the modern Pharisees and priests who are clamoring for recognition and many of them hiding behind a hypocritical façade. Look at how many in Congress got caught using pages, both boys and girls. When one sees how they conduct their meetings and the verbiage one might readily conclude that they were doing anything other than following God’s guidance.
If I had my way I would divorce prayers and religious exercises from governmental functions altogether.
One day I served as chaplain in the US House when Tip O’Neill was Speaker of the House. Most of the Members were not even seated, they were talking and it was a farce. I decided then and there it was a formality and probably didn’t do any one any good and perhaps even did them some harm in that the lack of reverence for God probably carried over to disrespect for the people to put them there.
Alas. This is one nation under god. I believe that. Almost every thing tells us that. However, it is god spelled with the lower case in my humble experienced opinion. Both Jesus and Paul call him the god of this world. Those who serve him cannot get too much attention and those who do not, care not for that kind of attention.