Current Issues
“Christian Prayers Violate the First Amendment”
January 18, 2010

Below is a letter sent by the ACLU in regard to opening prayer at board meetings. People of faith often wonder how we got to this critical point in our nation….we have allowed our religious and individual freedom to  erode away little by little by the persistence of people and organizations with opposing beliefs and values. Below is another example:

“…Specifically, the ACLU of Virginia urges you to adopt either a moment of silence in lieu of prayer, or a policy ensuring that prayers be nonsectarian.

As Mr. Haynes noted, a moment of silence is a good option because it allows every individual to pray, or not pray, as he chooses. It allows the widest freedom of choice for participants, and ensures that the Board is not seen to take sides on religious issues.

…  And when the government speaks, it cannot play favorites among religions:  “The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.”  Larson v. Valente,  456 U.S. 228, 244 (1982).

This basic principle – that government may not prefer one religious faith over another – holds true in the case of legislative prayer.   “The legislative prayers involved in Marsh did not violate this principle because the particular chaplain had ‘removed all references to Christ.’”  Id. at 603.

If this were not clear enough, the Fourth Circuit has expressly held that a town council’s practice of opening meetings with explicitly Christian prayers violated the First Amendment.  Wynne v. Town Council of Great Falls, 376 F.3d 292 (4th Cir. 2004):

In sum, prayers at school board meetings must be nonsectarian.  The prayers at the last two school board meetings, which, according to the Free Lance-Star, were said “in Jesus Christ’s name,” violate that principle.  The School Board should therefore have a clear policy mandating nonsectarian prayers, and should ensure that those who are invited to give invocations understand the policy.   Of course, all of this could be avoiding by returning to the moment of silence option.”

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