Heated First Amendment debates continue to rage in the U.S. surrounding prayer at public events, with the latest battleground set in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where Christian invocations at city council meetings are being called unconstitutional.
Five simple words uttered by the Cuyahoga Falls City Council chaplain at the end of opening prayers — “in Jesus name, we pray” — have led some to question the legality of these sectarian words.
Councilman Terry Mader, who was appointed chaplain in January, is at the center of the debate, Ohio’s Akron Beacon Journal reported.
While some appreciate his Christian overture, not everyone is happy about it, with critics claiming that the words are exclusionary.
The city counsel has reportedly received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a church-state separatist group, charging that the Christian wording is a violation of the separation of church and state.
While vocal critics in the community aren’t asking for prayer to be thrown out entirely, they are hoping for a more inclusive invocation — one that doesn’t mention Jesus Christ by name.
“I agree that prayer at the beginning of a meeting can set the tone for the meeting, get everyone’s mind focused and in the right place,” Sheryl Aronson, a Jewish resident, said during a council meeting this week.
Aronson continued, “In your own mind, you can say ‘in Christ’s name.’ It doesn’t lose any power by being said silently. It doesn’t gain any power by being said out loud.”
Others, though, including the Rev. Chris McCombs, a local minister, believe that the city council should continuing saying the prayer as is, citing America’s religious history.
The debate comes as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on Town of Greece v. Galloway, a contentious case that could set a precedent on public prayer and the Establishment Clause. The legal battle involves a dispute over invocations at town board meetings in Greece, N.Y, a suburb of Rochester.
The legal battle, which is attracting attention from both sides of the church-state separatism debate, originated when residents Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, complained that all meetings between 1999 and 2007 were opened with Christian-themed prayers. Read more about the case here.
(H/T: Akron Beacon Journal)
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