County plan upheld when court allowed public prayer
Meetings of the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners will now begin with a prayer, board chair Allen Springer announced last week. And if that makes you uncomfortable, kindly put your headphones on or exit the room, said a 5-4 May ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This practice will draw fire from those considering it a state establishment of religion. Commissioners should take care to ensure that opening prayers represent whatever diversity of religions exists in the county and be cautious about allowing the beliefs of one religious faith to drive government policies.
The Supreme Court’s split vote sparked a new round of discourse about a topic of great interest to many Americans: the inclusion of religion in the government sphere. The right to open government meetings with prayer has been defended several times in the court system. The recent ruling has a twist, however, allowing opening prayers to be almost entirely Christian if that is the near-exclusive religion of the community. It does not matter, the court said, if that makes a meeting attendee uncomfortable.
In the case in Greece, N.Y., a Jewish woman and an atheist woman argued the nearly all-Christian invocations of a local council violated their rights. Prayers should only be for a “generic God,” they said. Not so, the court ruled.
Yamhill County invocations will be mostly Christian, because that faith has a sound majority in our communities. It takes only a glance at the News-Register’s weekly church listings to see that.
But Springer said the board will be open to prayers from members of other faiths.
For citizens, testifying in front of a governing board can be nerve-racking. If someone of Jewish or Muslim faith enters Room 32 of the courthouse and feels he or she will be judged solely by Christian-based tenets, it could affect their view of the proceedings. Having such people share a moment of their faith at said meetings should remain a possibility.
Of course, always, lines will have to be drawn. Yes, we might snicker if a worshiper of Satan demands to give a pre-meeting invocation, a current situation in Florida.
There’s no denying that religion plays a role in politics, where many speeches end with “May God bless the United States of America.” But religion should not reach beyond those symbolic gestures to advance narrow political agendas.