IFAS | Freedom Writer | January/February 1999 | prayer.html

The prayer corner

Intolerable prayers banned

Denver, Colorado In a bizarre case, the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled last fall that city governments may prohibit citizens from saying prayers at the opening of city council meetings if the prayers are "offensive and intolerable."

The October 27, 1998 ruling came after Tom Snyder was prohibited from praying at a city council meeting in Murray City, Utah. While the council usually opens with prayer, it banned Synder's prayer, which petitioned "Our Mother, who art in heaven (if, indeed there is a heaven)" to prevent "self-righteous politicians from misusing the name of God in conducting government meetings."

Synder sued the Salt Lake City suburb, saying his constitutional rights had been violated. The Court denied his claim, saying the Constitution does not require equal public access to the privilege of opening meetings with prayer.

"What matters," the court ruled, "is whether the prayer to be offered fits within the genre" of a "tolerable acknowledgement of beliefs widely held among people."

Prayer monitoring costly

Montgomery, Alabama In 1997, US District Judge Ira DeMent ordered DeKalb County school officials to halt teacher-led prayer and devotions, prayer over the public address system, and prayer before high school football games. He took his order a step further and appointed a Birmingham attorney to monitor the school's compliance. In December, the attorney, Chriss Doss, billed the school $20,000 for a four-month period. The bill was less than half of what he billed for a previous four-month period. That bill was for nearly $42,000.

Generic prayers only

St. Paul, Minnesota Lawmakers in the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 72-60 on January 11, 1999 to order chaplains to perform only "non-denominational" prayers that respect the religious diversity of the House. That means the daily invocations must now be generic prayers to "God," with no specific references to Jesus.

© 1999 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.