By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
A July 23 ruling by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals should sound the alarm to Christians across the U.S., who are quickly losing their freedom to pray publicly in Jesus’ name.
The ruling, written by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in the role of visiting judge, supported the Fredericksburg (Va.) City Council’s non-sectarian prayer policy, which led the governing body to deny council member Hashmel Turner the right to open a meeting in prayer because he intended to call His Lord by name.
Turner’s 2006 legal challenge to the policy was shot down by U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer and then appealed, leading to the July ruling, which may have far-reaching implications.
“Justice O’Connor showed her liberal colors … declaring the word ‘Jesus’ as illegal religious speech, which can be banned by any council who wishes to ignore the First Amendment as she did,” Gordon James Klingenschmitt told the Christian Newswire. Klingenschmitt is the former Navy chaplain who faced a court martial for praying in Jesus name in uniform.
Klingenschmitt points out the lack of logic in the ruling of the three-judge panel which declared opening prayer at the Fredericksburg meetings “governmental speech.”
“By ruling that prayer is ‘government speech,’ O’Connor has established a government-favored version of God,” he said.
Also in the ruling, O’Connor wrote that “The restriction that prayers be nonsectarian in nature is designed to make the prayers accessible to people who come from a variety of backgrounds, not to exclude or disparage a particular faith.
If that’s so, why is Turner’s Christian faith being excluded, Klingenschmitt wants to know.
Far from ensuring that no one’s rights are violated by a prayer that might offend, the council has violated Turner’s God-given and Constitutional right to freely exercise his religion.
The situation in Fredericksburg isn’t unique, as a number of municipalities across the U.S. have bowed to pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union to adopt policies requiring nondenominational prayers. But asking Christians to deny the name of their Lord or be banned from praying in the boardroom isn’t the only way the issue can be handled.
Attorney Tami Fitzgerald from the North Carolina Family Policy Council points out that Fredericksburg and other cities can still allow denominational prayers by adopting a policy that transfers the duty of invocations from the Council members to area clergy members selected at random.
“This type of policy has been advocated by the Alliance Defense Fund and has been adopted nationwide by a number of local and state governments,” Fitzgerald said in a special report issued by the NCFPC following the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. “So long as prayers at public meetings are offered by private citizens, not government officials, and are not intended to proselytize or to disparage another religion, governmental bodies are allowed to have sectarian prayers before their meetings.”
The Christian Law Association also weighed in on the issue of prayer in Jesus’ name in an earlier report, prior to the ruling.
“When legislatures or private groups censor prayers in Jesus’ name, pastors and other Christians who believe their prayers should be offered in Jesus’ name are treated like second-class citizens and are prohibited from participating in this important American tradition,” the CLA report said. “It seems to us that this is exactly the sort of government intrusion into religion that the First Amendment seeks to avoid.”
The CLA also points out that there is no question that the founding fathers intended for government participants to be able to pray as they wished. In fact, the first prayer offered at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia was offered in Jesus name.