Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kansas AG applauds prayer ruling

By The Herald Staff | 5/5/2014

TOPEKA — The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an American tradition Monday in allowing prayers to be said at the beginnings of public meetings, Derek Schmidt, Kansas’ top prosecutor, said.

A divided high court ruled 5-4 Monday that a city government in Greece, New York — population 96,000 — could continue to open its monthly meetings with a prayer, even though past prayers all had been Christian, many invoking the name of Jesus Christ, according to media reports. The suit came after an atheist woman and a Jewish woman challenged the practice saying the Christian prayers made them feel uncomfortable. The women were represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

TOPEKA — The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an American tradition Monday in allowing prayers to be said at the beginnings of public meetings, Derek Schmidt, Kansas’ top prosecutor, said.

A divided high court ruled 5-4 Monday that a city government in Greece, New York — population 96,000 — could continue to open its monthly meetings with a prayer, even though past prayers all had been Christian, many invoking the name of Jesus Christ, according to media reports. The suit came after an atheist woman and a Jewish woman challenged the practice saying the Christian prayers made them feel uncomfortable. The women were represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Justices were split largely on religious lines, the Los Angeles Times reported. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan are Jewish and supported the suit against the prayers. The fourth dissenting justice, Sonia Sotomayor, was raised as a Catholic, but she is said to be not a regular church goer, the newspaper said.

Those in the majority that backed the prayers at meetings — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — all are Catholic.

“By inviting ministers to serve as chaplain for the month, ...the town is acknowledging the central place that religion and religious institutions hold in the lives of those present,” Justice Kennedy said, according to media reports. If some citizens hear prayers that “make them feel excluded and disrespected,” they should ignore them, he said. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable.”

Though Kansas was not a party to the case, Schmidt, Kansas attorney general, applauded the decision, and noted the Kansas Legislature also uses an opening prayer.

“[Monday’s] decision reaffirms that the Constitution does not command abandonment of America’s long tradition of opening certain public meetings with prayer,” Schmidt said. “Although this specific case involved a town council in New York, Kansas joined in support in order to protect the long tradition of opening prayer embraced by both houses of the Kansas Legislature and other public bodies in our state. I’m pleased with the outcome, and we will continue to defend the laws and practices of the state of Kansas against legal challenge.”

The City of Ottawa and Franklin County also begin government meetings with an opening prayer.

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