Our Opinion: Public meeting prayers fail to ‘establish’ official religion

We find nothing unconstitutional about prayer at public meetings.

In that regard, we are aligned with the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently upheld the practice, and area public officials and clergy who support the ruling.

The focus of the court challenge, again, is the portion of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment commonly known as the “establishment clause.” It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof …”

Even if we construe Congress in the broader sense of any governing body, the operative phrase remains “establishment of religion.”

A motivation for the founding fathers was to avoid following the example of England, which established an official religion with the Church of England.

The establishment clause not only bans creating an official church, it prohibits government from interfering with the religious liberty of its citizens.

We believe the Constitution asks citizens not to ignore religion, but to respect the diversity of religious expression people are free to practice.

Area clergy and public officials quoted in a news story Tuesday described how they emphasized inclusion and cooperation when invited to pray in public forums.

“We’re not pushing a particular denomination or religious background,” said Msgr. Robert Kurwicki, a Catholic clergyman who also serves as chaplain for the Missouri House. “We are looking for these prayers to be a source of unity — but not so watered down that the don’t mean anything.”

The most recent legal challenge was filed by by two non-Christians who contended the prayers at public meetings in a New York State town should be more generic or diverse.

We understand those concerns, but we believe prayer at public meetings is not intended to offend anyone. It certainly is not an unconstitutional establishment of religion that deserves to be challenged in the courts.

We still have room to improve our practice of the love, tolerance and forgiveness that are common denominators in religious teachings.

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