When the Supreme Court this week takes up the issue of prayer before government meetings, both Republicans and Democrats will be looking to a higher power.
According to the Miami Herald, the Obama administration has joined conservative state and federal lawmakers in urging the Supreme Court to allow politicians to say prayers during government meetings.
Among those keeping close tabs on the issue is Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who wants to hear prayers in the Senate before he and his colleagues get down to work.
Rubio is joined by legislators in Texas, too, who also want to say prayers before meetings. And in Arizona, both the House and Senate begin the day with a legislative prayer.
“It’s part of our history and decorum.”
- Donna Kafer, Arizona's legislative chaplain
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will begin deciding the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, a New York lawsuit that could resonate at all levels of government, from local city councils to state legislatures and even Congress.
In Greece v. Galloway, a lower court ruled that opening a town council meeting with a prayer violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The court ruled that the prayers violated the separation of church and state, and the content of the prayers could give the impression that the government endorses Christianity.
“The reason legislative prayer is constitutional is because it’s been done since the (nation’s) founding, including by the Congress that promulgated the First Amendment,” former Solicitor General Paul Clement told the Herald.
Lawmakers in Arizona take turns leading the prayer, according to azcentral.com, and bring in different religious leaders, including Jewish, Native American and Muslim leaders.
“It’s part of our history and decorum,” said Donna Kafer, who has served as Arizona’s volunteer legislative chaplain for 15 years and said she believes the daily prayer has a calming effect on lawmakers. “It sets the tone for what they’re there to do.”
Greece, a town in upstate N.Y., near Rochester, has begun its monthly town meetings with prayers since 1999. Every public prayer was led by a Christian during the first nine years of the practice, the Herald reports.
So, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, two Greece residents – one Jewish, one atheist – noted that residents attending the meetings are forced to sit through the prayers.
The town of Greece has included more religions in its prayers since Galloway and Stephens filed their suit, but an appellate court ruled last year that the town’s prayer program, in the eyes of a “reasonable observer,” would be “viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint.”