Public Prayer in America Facing Serious Threats
Attacks on the longtime American tradition of saying prayers are increasing.
“Maybe,” says Liberty Council’s Jeremy Dys, “we will get through this year without receiving reports of city leaders going to their national day of prayer celebrations in their towns and being threatened with lawsuits as a result.”
Maybe Dys will get his wish this year. But even as America observes a National Day of Prayer, people’s right to pray in public is under attack across the country. In one case, police denied a person’s right to pray in her own home.
Today, President Donald Trump signed an executive order today protecting religious freedom. He said, “We will not allow people of faith to be bullied.” The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins says that “the open season on Christians and other people of faith is coming to a close in America.”
In the meantime, though, people across the country have to fight in the courts for their right to pray. Here are a few of the cases.
In 2015 in Seattle, a high school football coach was suspended and then fired for praying on the field after games. Coach Joe Kennedy merely said a silent prayer. He did not instruct the players to join him. Yet for merely saying a silent prayer as he’d done for many years, this beloved coach lost his position. A federal court will finally hear his case this summer.
In Kansas, a police officer stopped a woman from praying in her own home.
In Kansas, a police officer threatened to arrest a woman for praying in her own home. Mary Ann Sause is a retired Catholic nurse on disability. The officers came to her home and demanded entry without telling her why. When she began praying, one of the officers told her he would arrest her if she didn’t stop.
First Liberty is representing her in a lawsuit against the police department. A federal district court ruled that being ordered by armed officers not to pray “may have offended her, it does not constitute a burden on her ability to exercise her religion.” The U.S. court of appeals for the 10th Circuit is now hearing the case.
And More Cases
In Texas, The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack. He is facing ethics charges for allowing a chaplain to open court sessions in prayer. Yet a sign clearly says people are not required to attend the prayer. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion stating the prayers are constitutional. The Supreme Court upheld the practice in Town of Greece v. Galloway, he argues.
Similarly, in Pennsylvania, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is suing the state legislature. The legislature permits religious leaders to say a prayer at the start of sessions.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue the Harrison School Board in Arkansas for saying prayer before meetings. So far, the board is defying its threat.
A Cherished Tradition of Public Prayer
The U.S. has a long, cherished tradition of prayer in the public sphere. There is a reason we enjoy an annual National Day of Prayer.
But many people disagree. They try to use the law and the courts to empty our public life of any recognition of God. State legislatures around the country already protect public prayer, and Congress should do the same.
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