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Supreme Court decision

By Jim Killebrew

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[May 07, 2014]  On May 5, 2014 the United States Supreme Court rendered a decision about Christian prayer prior to government events that has some questioning their reasoning. The decision was a 5 to 4 decision that upholds a decision that was questioned by a practice in Greece, New York where the Board Meetings were opened by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer being delivered by a clergyman from the community where the town argued, “Nearly all of the local congregations are Christian.” The town routinely chose clergy members from a list of the church directories in order to rotate them and not show preference to any one denomination. Apparently that was not good enough to present a lawsuit.

A couple of town’s people didn’t like the fact that there were Christian prayers offered up before the meeting of the Board. They brought a lawsuit claiming there was discrimination against various “religious” organizations that were not “Christian,” therefore, bringing the city into non-compliance with “separation” laws.

By the time the case finally reached the Supreme Court it also considered the precedent established in a 1983 court in Nebraska that dealt with the opening prayer in the Nebraska legislature. That practice of opening the legislative session with a prayer was upheld by the court that said prayer has been considered part of the nation’s fabric and should not be considered a violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court in the Greece, New York case was consistent with the ruling in the Nebraska case.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy said that prayers in this case are ceremonial and they are continuing the long-standing tradition of the nation’s practice regarding prayer. Justice Kennedy said, “The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.”

The minority position was written by Justice Elena Kagan representing the liberal justices on the court. Justice Kagan said, “I respectfully dissent from the Court's opinion because I think the Town of Greece's prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality — the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian."

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This seems a win for Christianity, but we have to remember that this decision was not an acclimation from the Supreme Court; it was only five Justices who held the majority against four. Someday when the court is packed with different Justices who are in agreement with today’s minority on this issue, we will see a different outcome. Christians need to continue to keep praying and following what Christ has asked to be done. Listen to His words recorded for us in the book of Luke.

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)


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