In the rarest meeting of minds, both the White House and Republican members of Congress have sent messages of support for a case that’s winding through the Supreme Court over the fate of prayers at local government bodies: Yes, Christian-based prayers are constitutional.
The case deals with a federal appeal court ruling handed down last year in Greece, N.Y., that said the local officials had crossed the First Amendment’s ban on “establishment of religion” by allowing a local minister to deliver a public prayer during a monthly public meeting, the Los Angeles Times reported.
After the public was invited to join the prayer, a Jewish resident and an atheist resident sued, saying it’s not fair that only Christian faiths were invited to lead the public prayer.
The case is due for Supreme Court hearing this fall. And the White House and Congress have both weighed in, sending briefs through their attorneys to argue that prayer before town meetings by representatives of the Christian faith does not violate the Constitution.
Via a letter from U.S. Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr., the Obama administration expressed the view that the Christian-based prayer that went forth in Greece “does not amount to an unconstitutional establishment of religion merely because most prayer-givers are Christian and many or most of their prayers contain sectarian references,” the L.A. Times reported.
He also pointed out in the letter that House and Senate members regularly start sessions in prayer and that the court already ruled the practice legal at the state level in 1983.
The government has no business compelling local officials to “closely police the content of prayers,” he wrote, the L.A. Times reported.
That White House view is being mirrored by 85 members of the House and 34 from the Senate, mostly Republicans, who sent through their attorney separate friend-of-the-court briefs, asking the court to uphold the right of local government bodies to pray.
The members of Congress were surprised at the administration’s letter, the L.A. Times reported — and so was at least one attorney with the pro-traditional family group, Family Research Council.
The White House filing “was a surprisingly conservative brief, and it came as a pleasant surprise,” said Ken Klukowski, the FRC’s attorney, in the L.A. Times. “It’s gratifying that even the Obama administration recognizes that courts are not qualified to censor prayers.”