Supreme Court right on prayer

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board May 07, 2014 12:44 pm

The Supreme Court weighed in more than a decade too late to have much influence on Baker City’s controversy, but the nation’s highest court has finally endorsed, albeit by the narrowest margin, the City Council’s longtime practice of opening its meetings with a Christian invocation.

In a 5-4 ruling Monday on a case from Greece, N.Y., the Court decided that invocations made during local meetings, including prayers that are explicitly Christian, are constitutional.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, concluded that “the inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledged religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.”

We agree with Kennedy’s conclusion.

Although we suggested in 2008 that the City Council replace the invocation with a moment of silence, we’ve never believed that the Council’s invocations amounted to proselytizing or to denigrating other religions.

And we’re confident that were a Jewish rabbi, for instance, to ask to say a prayer at the opening of meeting, that he would be welcomed to do so.

In 2002 the City Council approved a resolution that recommends non-sectarian invocations but does not preclude specifically Christian prayers. Since then invocations have included Christian prayers as well as readings of poetry, inspirational quotations and even brief musical performances.

Most often, though, the invocation has been a prayer, and frequently one that refers to Jesus.

Fortunately this practice has not rekindled the debate that embroiled the City Council, and many residents, in the early 2000s and again, briefly, in the summer of 2008.

And now that the Supreme Court has determined that those prayers meet constitutional muster, we hope it’s a topic that remains in the background.