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Case Closed: The Supreme Court Finishes Off the Rev. Hashmel Turner Prayer Case

Original article available here.

THE U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the prayer case of Fredericksburg Councilman (and Rev.) Hashmel Turner, meaning that if he wants to pray at City Council meetings, he must say a "non-sectarian" prayer--which doesn't exist--omitting the name "Jesus Christ"-- whom he believes does. Rather than violate his conscience, if we know the Rev. Turner, he will continue to forfeit his turn in the seven-person council's rotational prayer cycle, where deistic orisons to "a Higher Power" and "Divine Providence" are permitted, rather than wear the rough bridle of government-edited speech.

It has been an interesting three years since the Rev. Turner first filed his suit, provoking in Our Town and beyond discussions more thoughtful than those pertaining to the Cowboys' defense and the current price of high-test. In this birthplace of Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom--which, ironically, we celebrate this week--the legal and lay debates concerning the Turner case have provided a valuable, modern-day gloss on that document.

For this lesson in civics and the Constitution, the community should thank the Rev. Turner; the Rutherford Institute, which represented him; the People for the American Way Foundation, which represented the council (at least some of whose members were rooting for the Rev. Turner); and other participants. City residents should also be happy that the litigation, conducted by ideological interest groups, didn't cost them anything.

Many will rejoice that the status quo survived the Turner challenge; others won't. (Our Editorial Board is split over the case.) But how edifying it would have been had the justices disposed of the Rutherford Institute's parting challenge: "Rather than permitting the dumbing down of legislative prayer to a civil religion that robs the nation of its diversity and the opportunity for religious tolerance and accommodation, [the High Court should have granted] review, acknowledg[ing] that the Establishment Clause does not require that legislative prayer extinguish the diversity of religious viewpoints in our country."

A quip by Oscar Wilde may be germane to the Supreme Court's reticence: "Arguments are to be avoided. They are always vulgar and often convincing."


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