TRI In The News
Praying 'In Jesus' Name' Elevated to Supremes
Original article available here.
Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are being asked to overturn one of their former colleagues, Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote in an appellate level decision that excluding anyone who prays "in Jesus' name" from a rotation of officials who open city business meetings is fair and reasonable.
Attorneys with The Rutherford Institute have asked the high court to overturn the opinion issued by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Hashmel Turner, a Christian who was told he alone of all council members in Fredericksburg, Va., would not be allowed to use the name of his God during the routine meeting prayers.
The appeals court had concluded that such prayers actually were "government speech" and, therefore, not protected by the First Amendment. But Rutherford lawyers say the city's attempt to dictate the content of prayers violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well as Turner's free speech and free exercise rights.
That's trouble, the institute said. In fact, the decision "has already triggered a discriminatory backlash against state-trooper chaplains in Virginia and ... threatens to undermine free speech rights around the country."
The O'Connor ruling, said the appeal, "theoretically could permit a city council to prepare the text of an approved prayer and require any council members who wish to pray to read from the approved script."
Such government demands, the appeal said, are "unprecedented in the history of this Court's First Amendment jurisprudence."
In fact, "It violates this Court's outright prohibition on the government prescribing or proscribing the content of any prayer. It gives government unbridled authority to discriminate against religious viewpoints under the 'government speeech' umbrella without any accountability," the institute's appeal said.
U.S. Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who was removed from the military over the issue of praying "in Jesus' name," has set up a Prayer Rally for Persecuted Police Chaplains Nov. 1, from 10-11 a.m. at the Capitol Square Bell Tower in downtown Richmond in support of the six Virginia State Police chaplains who resigned their chaplain posts rather than agreed to stop praying "in Jesus' name."
Nearly 100 Virginia pastors already have pledged to mobilize their churches in support of the chaplains.
The original dispute arose when Turner, a resident of Fredericksburg and a member of the town council, was part of a rotation of council members who took turns bringing a prayer at the council meetings. He ended his prayers "in Jesus' name."
Turner's prayer, however, offended a listener, who prompted the involvement of several activist groups that threatened a lawsuit if the elected Christian council member continued to be allowed to cite Jesus' name.
The city then adopted a non-sectarian prayer requirement, imposing a ban on any reference to "Jesus."
"Turner was not forced to offer a prayer that violated his deeply-held religious beliefs. Instead he was given a chance to pray on behalf of the government," O'Connor wrote.
Not so, said Klingenschmitt.
"Actually he was directly forced to conform or face the punishment of exclusion," he said. "Actually he was denied the change to pray on behalf of that government."
John Whitehead, the founder and chief of the Rutherford Institute, told WND at the time the appeals court arguments were made that freedoms of speech and religion are burdened in the U.S. today with a politically correct atmosphere that endorses or at least allows any sort of religious acknowledgement, except for Christians.
O'Connor wrote: "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."
Klingenschmitt's statement said: "Ironically, she admitted Turner was excluded from participating solely because of the Christian content of his prayer."
"It is my hope that the Supreme Court will hear this very important case," Whitehead said. "If the government can censor speech on the grounds that it is so-called 'government speech,' it will not be long before this label becomes a convenient tool for silencing any messages that does not conform to what government officials deem appropriate."
He said the tradition of allowing council members to open meetings with prayer on a rotating basis has been alive in Fredericksburg since the 1950s.
The institute is urging the Supreme Court, "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, this Court should grant review in this case to ... acknowledge that the Establishment Clause does not require that legislative prayer extinguish the diversity of religious viewpoints in our country."
As WND reported, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine affirmed his support for the new statewide policy under which state troopers serving as chaplains will not be allowed to pray "in Jesus' name," explaining he can pray "without mentioning Jesus."
"I would never do anything to inhibit anybody's religious worship. It doesn't diminish my ability to worship my God, to pray to the Father or the Lord without mentioning Jesus Christ," he said.
Pastors wrote Kaine seeking a change in the policy that suddenly was announced by Col. W. Steven Flaherty to chaplains. The dispute became public through the work of Charles W. Carrico Sr., a member of Virginia's House of Delegates, a former trooper.
State officials said the policy was imposed because they were worried about future lawsuits because of the O'Connor opinion.
Said the appeal, "Unquestionably, the city council's policy was aimed directly at Councilor Turner and his practice of closing prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Unquestionably, after the policy was adopted, other city council members were permitted to pray in the name of other deities and to utter prayers reflecting denominational influences. ... whereas councilor Turner was excluded from praying."