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Does Prayer Belong at Government Meetings?

"An overwhelming number of Americans are upset by two things -- not being allowed to pray, and someone insisting that that only their prayer is legitimate."

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As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on Town of Greece vs. Galloway later this term -- a case that could have a profound impact on prayer in the public square -- a new poll finds that the vast majority of Americans have no problem with invocations at government meetings, with one important caveat.

Seventy-three percent of registered American voters surveyed by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind said that they support "prayer at public meetings" so long as politicians and public figures don't use it to tout one religion or belief system over another.

Only 23 percent of voters agreed with the sentiment that "public meetings shouldn’t have any prayers at all because prayers by definition suggest one belief or another."

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The survey showed no notable differences between men and women, various age groups or whites and non-whites, though there was a divide when examining the views among the nation's two main political parties.

The majorities of both Republicans (88 percent) and Democrats (60 percent) favor non-sectarian public prayer; ten percent of GOP adherents oppose it, while thirty-six percent of Democrats feel the same.

Comparative politics Professor Peter J. Woolley of Fairleigh Dickinson said that the U.S. has always been a "praying nation" and that most people see no harm in generic prayer, according to a press release announcing the results.

"An overwhelming number of Americans are upset by two things -- not being allowed to pray, and someone insisting that that only their prayer is legitimate," Woolley said.

The survey, which was conducted among 883 registered voters from Dec. 9-Dec. 15, 2013 has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points.

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Town of Greece v. Galloway 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.

According to The Pew Research Center, the two non-Christians said "they felt both coerced to participate and isolated during the ceremony." Galloway and Stephens believe that the presence of the prayers meant that Greece had been both touting and and progressing the Christian faith.

Read more about the case here.


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