Praying in public

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So here we go again, as the U.S. Supreme Court determines the constitutionality of a suburban New York town called Greece opening its monthly meetings with an official denominational prayer, purportedly to solemnize its meetings. Town-designated chaplains of the month lead the prayers which may and do include sectarian references that are offensive to citizens of other religions. Switching on a monthly basis which group is to be offended hardly corrects the offense nor eliminates the consequential civic divisiveness, sometimes leading to mischief and crime.

Religion should be practiced freely by individuals and churches, not by the state through any of its agencies. The free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantees the former, just as the establishment clause of that amendment precludes the latter. Mixing the rules governing two of our basic institutions only causes problems, avoidable ones.

I’d make one exception. It would be acceptable if legislatures – the U.S. Congress, as well as state and locals – began sessions by invoking a plea the public shares about its work: 

“Lord Almighty, can we get the public’s work done!”

Goldfarb is an attorney, author and literary agent based in Washington, D.C., and Miami.