Published November 05, 2013
Wednesday morning, I plan to attend oral arguments at the Supreme Court of the United States for the case of Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway.
There, I’ll observe what will be an important moment in our country’s long tradition of protecting religious liberty.
The Town of Greece is the latest party to be thrust into the middle of our country’s debate over the right to public religious expression, and all it did to deserve this was allow prayer before sessions of its town council.
The tradition of praying before meetings of governing or legislative bodies is common all across our country. In fact, it has been meaningful to me in my own career as a public servant.
In the Florida State House, I often took time with my fellow state representatives to pray for the wisdom and discernment to properly serve our constituents. Now, every morning before debate commences in the U.S. Senate, we pause for prayer and reflection.
Even the Supreme Court, which is now considering this case, has long begun every session with the proclamation, “God save the United States and this Honorable Court!” These are just some examples of how religious freedom, including in the public square, is one of the things that unites us as a “nation under God.”
As defenders of religious freedom, many of us were concerned by the lower court’s ruling in the case of the Town of Greece.
The opportunity to deliver a prayer or reflection before the town council in Greece is open to individuals of all faiths, and those of none at all.
Prayers have been said by members of various Christian denominations, the Jewish faith and a Wiccan. Nevertheless, because the town is overwhelmingly Christian, so are a large number of prayers.
In spite of this obvious fairness to people of all beliefs, including atheists, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the town had violated the First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of religion.
I found this ruling to be deeply unsettling, and the Supreme Court has rightfully agreed to hear the appeal. The decision has implications far beyond the legal realm, impacting American life, culture and government.
I believe that part of what distinguishes America from the rest of the world is that we do not feel threatened by each other's faiths.
While the First Amendment rightly prohibits the government from imposing an official church onto the people, the tradition of the Town of Greece and so many others to allow legislative prayer is a far cry from forced or coerced religious practice.
World history is filled with instances of a people’s right to worship being limited or suppressed outright. But we are blessed to live in a nation that was founded on the explicit principle that America would be different.
In order to preserve this tradition of religious freedom, we can’t afford to stand idly by.
Men and women of faith – of all faiths and beliefs – must make their voices heard. We can also make a difference by partaking in the very activity being called into question in this case: prayer. And I have faith that God will hear our voices.
I have also, along with 33 of my Senate colleagues, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the Town of Greece. And on Wednesday, I look forward to attending the arguments to stand with others from all across the country who wish only for the right to appeal to God before undertaking the work of governing and legislating.
We are taking a stand for a tradition of legislative prayer that was adopted at our founding, has helped unite us for over two centuries, and serves as a daily reminder of all the blessings that God has bestowed on our exceptional nation.