Just say a little prayer: Obama's move signals potentially big changes

Just say a little prayer: Obama's move signals potentially big changes

August 19th, 2013 in Opinion Times

President Barack Obama closes his eyes as he listens to offerings of prayers at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. While speaking, the president said he hopes they maintain the morning's bipartisan spirit a little longer.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The Obama Administration has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of prayer at public meetings.

The amicus brief was filed in the Galloway v. Town of Greece case, one that closely parallels a lawsuit here in Hamilton County and is expected to settle all government prayer cases. In the Greece, N.Y., case, the plaintiffs want prayer halted before public meetings, arguing that prayers there are exclusively Christian and therefore endorse Christianity over other religions. A U.S. Court of Appeals agreed, saying the town's prayerful openings were unconstitutional. Now the case is up for a final review by the nation's highest court.

Lawyers for the administration and two groups of lawmakers from the House and Senate, nearly all Republicans, separately filed amicus briefs arguing that councils and commissions should be allowed to open their meetings with a Christian prayer.

This will be a landmark case, and the Obama move - any politics aside - is a big deal because of what it could mean.

The Galloway case tests previous court rulings which held that public prayer at the beginning of a government body's session is "properly limited" as long as it "is not exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or disparage any other, faith or belief."

The Obama administration, like the Republicans, argues that "invoking Divine guidance for the day's deliberations is a tolerable acknowledgement of beliefs widely held among the people of this country. ... Whereas ... legislative prayers neither proselytize nor denigrate any faith, the inclusion of Christian references alone does not constitute an impermissible advancement or establishment of religion."

In the preamble of the administration's brief, U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. writes that throughout U.S. history, and dating back to the first session of the Continental Congress in 1774, the United States Congress has appointed chaplains to open each legislative day with a prayer. This remains a required rule in both the House and the Senate.

For all the disparagement in the South of President Obama and his faith, this is not the first time he has bucked more liberal faith concepts.

George W. Bush started cabinet meetings with prayer and encouraged the formation of Bible study groups at the White House, but President Obama went a big step further to embrace public religion by opening many of his public events with prayers that were commissioned and vetted by administration aides.

Those prayers, which kicked off many of the president's outside-the-beltway rallies, have been written and read by local community members who've been selected by the White House.

"If a similar thing had been done by President Bush's White House, I guarantee you there would have been a lot of people crying foul," said Bill Wichterman, President Bush's liaison to religious groups, in a recent U.S. News and World Report online report.

One could argue - any many do - that a city council meeting or a county commission meeting is not like a church service, and it shouldn't be treated as though it is. On the other hand, somebody needs to guide the people we elect, because they rarely listen to us.

We would argue that prayer - like cooperation and compromise - should be universal and all embracing, even when specified religions sometimes are not. We don't have to take God or Jesus out of anything. We just need to let Allah and Yahweh and others in.

One more thing, if you are a believer, no one can tell you not to pray. And frankly, no one does. All you have to do is bow your head.

Let religion be inclusive, not separating.

Amen.