Written by Don Byrd
The Supreme Court upheld a legislative prayer practice involving specifically Christian prayers in the case of Town of Greece earlier this year. So, does that mean all legislative bodies across the country can now institute policies that result in exclusively Christian prayers at their meetings? How are officials required now to protect against separation of church and state concerns? That is the question being asked by government officials (here’s just one of many examples) and religious liberty advocates (and probably, eventually, judges) who are trying to apply the Town of Greece decision in diverse scenarios.
In Alabama, the Huntsville City Council has reportedly rescinded an offer to a Wiccan clergyman following “community concerns” about inviting a person of his faith. (via Religion Clause) Is that decision allowed by Town of Greece?
There, the Court said exclusively Christian invitations were allowed in part because there were no houses of worship of other faiths in the city limits to invite. And the city is not required, they said, to seek out members of diverse faiths outside the area. How about here, where a Wiccan was invited to speak (and had apparently offered a prayer previously), but disinvited once his faith became an issue for some? Surely that is not the kind of community control over acceptable and unacceptable preayer-givers that the Town of Greece court had in mind.
The Washington Times today reports on this ongoing discussion – how to interpret the ruling – even among those who see Town of Greece as a victory:
Thomas M. Johnson Jr., an attorney who worked closely with the legal team on the Town of Greece v. Galloway case, called the decision a “significant victory for friends of religious liberty.” But during a talk Wednesday at the Family Research Council, Mr. Johnson admitted that questions remained.
“Will the [decision] be interpreted narrowly, or as a significant and necessary course correction?” he said. “The issue in a lot of these cases is whether or not we’re going to respect individual freedom.”
Mr. Johnson said the country would likely start to see different ways in which states and localities handle the question of religious freedom.
As in most Supreme Court decisions, the ruling answers one question but opens the door to a host of others. The conversation over legislative prayer limits is far from over.