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Atheist gets her day at the Supreme Court
November 1st, 2013
04:39 PM ET

Atheist gets her day at the Supreme Court

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

(CNN)– Linda Stephens has lived in her upstate New York community for more than three decades and has long been active in civic affairs.

But as an atheist, those views have put her at the center of a personal, political, and legal fight that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue is public prayer at her local town board meetings, another contentious case over the intersection of faith and the civic arena.

The justices on Wednesday will hear arguments over whether Greece, New York, may continue sponsoring what it calls "inclusive" prayers at its open sessions, on government property.

Stephens and co-plaintiff Susan Galloway have challenged the policy, saying virtually all of those invited to offer legislative prayers over the years were Christians.

"It's very divisive when you bring government into religion," Stephens told CNN from her home.

"I don't believe in God, and Susan is Jewish, so to hear these ministers talk about Jesus and even have some of them who personally question our motives, it's just not appropriate."

The town of about 94,000 residents counters that after concerns from the two women and others, it sought diverse voices, including a Wiccan priestess, to offer invocations. Officials say they do not review the content of the remarks, nor censor any language.

"The faith of the prayer giver does not matter at all," said John Auberger, Greece's board supervisor, who began the practice shortly after taking office 1998. "We accept anyone who wants to come in and volunteer to give the prayer to open up our town meetings."

A federal appeals court in New York found the board's policy to be an unconstitutional violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which forbids any government "endorsement" of religion.

Those judges said it had the effect of "affiliating the town with Christianity."

"To the extent that the state cannot make demands regarding the content of legislative prayers," said Judge Guido Calabresi, "municipalities have few means to forestall the prayer-giver who cannot resist the urge to proselytize. These difficulties may well prompt municipalities to pause and think carefully before adopting legislative prayer, but they are not grounds on which to preclude its practice."

Some legal experts say while the high court has allowed public prayers in general, it has not set boundaries on when they might become too sectarian in nature.

"The case involves a test between two different kinds of legal rules," said Thomas Goldstein, SCOTUSblog.com publisher and a leading Washington attorney.

"The Supreme Court has broadly approved legislative prayer without asking too many questions. But in other cases where the government is involved with religion, it has looked at lots of different circumstances. So we just don't know whether this court will be completely approving of legislative prayers in this instance."

The justices are now being asked to offer more firm guidelines over when and if such public prayers are constitutionally acceptable.

Felt marginalized

Galloway and Stephens say the elected board of the community outside Rochester almost always invited Christian clergy to open the meetings, usually with sectarian prayers. And they say they felt "marginalized" by the practice.

"When we tried to speak with the town, we were told basically if we didn't like the prayers, we didn't have to listen," said Stephens, "or could stand out in the hallway while they were going on."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Washington-based group that is representing the two women, cited records showing that between 1999 and 2010, approximately two-thirds of the invocations contained the words "Jesus Christ," Jesus," Holy Spirit," or "Your Son."

And the lawsuit claims that from 1999 through 2007, every meeting had a Christian-only invocation. Following the complaints from the plaintiffs, four other faiths were invited in 2008, including a Baha'i leader and a Jewish lay person.

The plaintiffs say the Christian-only invocations resumed from January 2009 through June 2010. They claim those invited to the monthly meetings were selected by a city employee from a local guide that had no non-Christian faiths listed.

"Politics and religion simply don't mix, and they certainly don't mix in the local context of the Greece town council," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, AUSCS executive director.

"The town seems to take the position that because once or twice over a decade, it hears from someone of a different religion, that somehow is inclusive. It trivializes what's going here - a local government that should be willing and interested in participation of all its citizens, it wants those citizens to participate in an almost inevitably Christian prayer, in order to begin doing their business."

Different rulings

While the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York last year unanimously ruled against Greece's policy, other courts around the country have found such invocations - if inclusive and limited in scope - to be permissible.

Congress regularly opens its sessions with a prayer. Wednesday's invocation by House Chaplain the Rev. Patrick Conroy began: "Eternal God, we give you thanks for giving us another day. Once again, we come to ask wisdom, patience, peace, and understanding for the members of this people's House."

Nearly 120 members of Congress, mostly Republicans, along with several state attorneys general have filed supporting legal briefs backing the city. So has the Obama administration.

"The history of prayers offered in connection with legislative deliberation in this country makes clear that a legislative body need not affirmatively solicit a court-mandated variety of different religious faiths– from inside and outside the borders governed by the legislative body– in order to avoid running afoul of the Establishment Clause," said Justice Department lawyers' in their amicus brief.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal ministry based in Scottsdale, Arizona, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Greece Town Board, saying the Supreme Court has upheld the practice of government bodies "to acknowledge America's religious heritage and invoke divine guidance and blessings upon their work."

"A few people should not be able to extinguish the traditions of our nation merely because they heard something they didn't like," said Brett Harvey, an attorney for the group. "Because the authors of the Constitution invoked God's blessing on public proceedings, this tradition shouldn't suddenly be deemed unconstitutional."

Stephens realizes the stakes are high for her community and for the law as a whole. But on a personal level, this legal fight has been tough.

"I've received something of a backlash, both Susan and me," the retired librarian said. "Threatening letters, some vandalism to my property, things like that. The prayers, and all the controversy, it makes you feel like an outcast, like we don't count in our town."

The case is Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway (12-696). A ruling is expected by early summer.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • Church and state • Courts

soundoff (6,237 Responses)
  1. Dr. Donnel Johnson

    The evidence would suggest that Judas, Mary, Jesus and others spent a great deal of their down time reflecting on the spiritual dichotomy of the soul vs. the physical and how that relates to the teachings of God.

    Jesus was attracted to Buddhism and often rested his decisions on the non-bias imaginings of one who would make sacrifice in this life only to be reborn in the next.

    In short, Jesus was a Jew by birth, but not by practice. He taught his own flavor of Buddhism and his closest disciples, Judas and Mary for example, were quite sure he was a snake in a previous life.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
  2. lol??

    Forcin' prayer ain't nuthin. Wait til ya see the LUV of MEDICINE MEN!

    November 2, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • Junk

      ?

      November 2, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
  3. Junk

    God is dead

    November 2, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • Junk

      The Gods live and they fight sometimes in my little brain

      November 2, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
    • Guest

      Gods only exist in the minds of the deluded.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  4. Dr. Donnel Johnson

    I have spent a great deal of my professional life in the study of the Gnostic Gospels. As it turns out, the majority of “prophets” contributing to these scriptures was quite illiterate and most likely drew pictures to explain their wisdom.

    Needless to say, transcribing pictographs to verse was a tough task for the monks in those early centuries.

    Moreover, Jesus was the worst of the lot. This poor man could not even draw stick figures in the sand and apparently could not be trusted with anything so as to draw. As the story goes, Jesus would have to play a primitive form of "charades" while his scribes tried to guess his meaning.

    Most scholars agree that this is why these books were omitted from the Holy Bible.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • lol??

      Be clear on yer GOSPEL, please??

      November 2, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
      • Dr. Donnel Johnson

        Look at the teachings of Jesus in the Gnostic literature that relates to being reborn as a Snake, a Lizard, and a Spider. Why did Jesus feel he was reincarnated; and why these animals and insects? That is easy if you read the Gospel of Mary.
        Mary had many pet names for her lover and among them were Snake, Lizard, and Spider. Snake and Lizard I can understand.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
    • Junk

      Jesus is a lie made up by the Romans

      November 2, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
      • Big Willz

        I think most serious scholars believe that Jesus existed. Now there is obviously a lot of debate over who he was

        November 2, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
        • Junk

          What proof is there that Jesus ever lived?

          There is new proof that the Romans made Him up to control the Jews.

          November 2, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
        • Rett

          junk...what proof?

          November 3, 2013 at 12:39 am |
      • Dr. Donnel Johnson

        Jesus was quite real, and quite human. Even Timothy and Philip knew the true nature of Christ, as evidenced in this passage from the Gospel of Philip, "...and our Lord came unto me and witnessed as I behaved without intimidation."

        Scholars believe this is evidence of group sexual activity, common place at this time in history among men afield.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
        • Junk

          Oh GD, the stories were passed down for 150 years, then Paul wrote them down. Not Paul the real apostle, Paul the honorary apostle.

          November 3, 2013 at 12:00 am |
        • Observer

          Dr. Donnel Johnson,

          Could you supply the exact verse, please?

          November 3, 2013 at 12:02 am |
        • Big Willz

          Junk: Paul didn't write down this stuff that the good doctor is talking about. He is talking about Gnostic gospels.

          November 3, 2013 at 1:01 am |
    • Big Willz

      They were omitted from the Bible because they were written much later than the Bible. Heck the gospel of Thomas wasn't found until 1945 so its easy to see why that one missed the cut. Gospel of Mary was discovered in 1896.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
      • Dr. Donnel Johnson

        These are copies of copies of copies of copies you refer too. The original texts were rejected by both church and government as too much truth was revealed.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
        • Big Willz

          oh a conspiracy theory. They were also rejected because they make no sense in light of the rest of scripture. The early church fathers didn't recognize these as being worthwhile

          November 3, 2013 at 12:59 am |
        • G to the T

          Almost – the fathers of one partricular church (you could call them the "proto-orthodox" church) based in Rome decided that they were the only "true" christians and denounced everyone else as heretical. They rejected them because they conflicted with their peronsal theology. In truth, there were dozens of brands of Christianity in the early years. Paul's church was not the majority view, it was the one with best power base however (Rome)...

          November 6, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Gospels looking for an author

      Who's my author? Who? Who? Who are you? Who? who? who? who?

      November 2, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Yamuna Zaman

      I think "Religions" create divisions and hatred among the creation of God !

      November 2, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
      • Rett

        How should the creation of God worship him?

        November 3, 2013 at 12:41 am |
        • G to the T

          What makes you think it desires worship? Does a parent require that his children worship him?

          November 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • corridorwatcher

      the majority of “prophets” contributing to these scriptures was quite illiterate

      were quite illiterate

      November 3, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  5. David

    Why not just pray silently to yourself if you want to? Why do people feel the need to do it out loud for everyone like it is a show or performance?

    November 2, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Because that is exactly what it is.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
    • Guest

      Exactly! They seem to need put on a show rather than just humbly groveling before their supernatural being(s). I wonder if they realize how silly they look to rational people. The're just as annoying as a baby crying on an airplane, but at least the baby has an excuse!

      November 3, 2013 at 12:12 am |
    • Dave

      Because Christians are taught that they must profess their faith aloud to honor their God.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:37 am |
      • aldewacs2

        Religious people need evidence, but not about their god(s) stories – those they accept on faith.

        November 3, 2013 at 8:53 am |
        • aldewacs2

          (Ooops, posted in wrong place)

          November 3, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  6. mordrud

    Asking the government to make atheism the favored religion of the land is a violation of church and state.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      Keeping all religions out of government keeps our government for all people.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
      • lol??

        Stay in yer perimeter. Public money sucker.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
      • Goofy

        Nonsense, religions are only words and this is only silence.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:36 am |
    • G to the T

      Secular does NOT equal atheist. Really beginning to wonder why christians are so reluctant to accept that.

      November 6, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  7. fqwkeoifwe

    This is the 21st century. Get these weak-minded, brainwashed, gullible, irrational, ignorant nutjobs out of places of power.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
    • lol??

      Well. enjoy yer drink with jim jones. He was a DARLING of the mediums.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
  8. gstlab3

    Whatever is the matter with a godless country?
    how about one without morals and the only thing that matters is the allmighty dollar and how many abortions you can have before you decide you want or can afford the little poop machine?
    No God.,no worries..,
    sounds like an idea drempt up by an inbredrednecklibtard.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      You know, only people with weak arguments or insecurity feel the need to resort to name calling.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
      • lol??

        OK, Peri.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
    • It's a Shame

      It's a shame there are so many abortions by Christians. I know what you mean..

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIpuKY88MFc

      November 2, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
  9. Reality # 2

    Only for the newbies:

    Free Will and Future are inherent to all the thinking beings in the Universe. This being the case, it is not possible to alter life with prayers or creeds. Statistically, your request might come true but it is simply the result of the variability/randomness of Nature..

    So put down your rosaries and prayer beads and stop worshiping/revering cows or bowing to Mecca five times a day. Instead work hard at your job, take care of aging parents, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to charities and the poor and continue to follow the proper rules of living as gracious and good human beings.
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    ===================================================================================

    November 2, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Separate prayers from government.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
  11. mjbrin

    back in the 50's, as a child growing up in the Catholic faith but going to a public school I always felt it was wrong when at school they would start the day with a prayer. why? because it was the Our Father but they didn't say it the same way we did. They added more to it. It confused me and made me feel uncomfortable. Later another child there told me that Catholics were evil because they "worshiped mary". For a long time i didn't trust any protestant because I knew my family wasn't evil. That is not to say Catholics were perfect, I later learned that many weren't, I am just saying that secular prayer belongs at home and at secular schools. A family, a single person or a group of friends can pray where ever they want but they can not stop an entire restaurant or mall or neighborhood from what they are doing and listen. They are free to walk away or ask the management to please ask them to be quiet with their prayer as it may be intruding on them. This is not so easy at a government meeting.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Well said.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
    • lol??

      What don't the educated get??

      "Gen 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."

      Changed the def of families like gud little daemons??

      November 3, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  12. Chris

    Okay let prayer in but now they have to decide on the religion, if you let prayer in for Christians, then you have to for every other religion out there can't exclude any otherwise it wouldn't be right. Seems a lot easier to no bother at all.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • mjbrin

      I would rather have a moment of silent reflection

      November 2, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
      • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

        No, the purpose of a moment of reflection is to allow religion in, and religion is not the business of government.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
        • mjbrin

          I see your point.......

          November 2, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
        • mjbrin

          I belong to many charitable organizations and we never have a prayer before the meeting (except my religious charities) and the meetings go quite well and we get many good things done. so i really do see your point now.....

          November 2, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
        • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

          mjbrin, And I agree with your examples – prayers at religious functions make sense.

          November 2, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
  13. Karma

    It's all make-believe, but you have to allow a Buddhist Prayer, a Islamic Prayer, a a quick Satanic Ritual to be fair.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      No, I disagree. As soon as you let religion in you allow a comfortable feeling of the acceptability of religion in government to take hold. That should never be. Invoking any spiritual being for guidance in a government meeting is stepping beyond democracy.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  14. tim heblows

    the point of most religions is to tell you exactly who it is ok to hate

    November 2, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
  15. Where is your God now?

    It is dark in your South African condo. You come into the living room to switch off the television. You are ready to join your girlfriend in the bedroom. It is Valentine’s Day. As you pad quietly up the stairs, you here a peculiar sound and hear a door shut. You start, then collect yourself and retrieve your gun from the nearby closet. Thinking your beautiful sweetheart is in the bedroom sleeping, your mind reels madly. Terrified you fire without thinking through the bathroom door where you just heard noises. Four times you fire your gun. Your girlfriend is not in bed sleeping.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
  16. Angie

    Jesus must be real. Why would anyone fight about someone who's not real?

    November 2, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
  17. Jeremy

    I am an atheist. The Separation of Church in State must be followed by all levels of US government and State government.

    November 2, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • Opposing View

      Thank God I'm going to heaven. And you can have this place! LOL...

      November 2, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
      • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

        And in a nutshell, that is the problem with religion. It causes people to ignore the problems of the here-and-now because they are focused on an unproven afterlife. Thanks extremely harmful.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
        • Opposing View

          You mean like atheists are ignoring the reality that they're going to hell? You're right about that...

          As for focusing on this life, Jesus said "What profiteth a man if he gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul..." Set your affections on things above, and not on things of the earth...

          November 2, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
        • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

          No, I mean things like pollution, crime, poverty, wealth disparity, etc. Remember, today's and tomorrow's children will be inheriting this earth. Is that what you want?

          November 2, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
      • caro

        AMEN!!

        November 2, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
        • carol

          Amen on the going to Heaven.

          November 2, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  18. Where is your god now?

    You are a teenager taking swimming lessons with your aunt. You don’t know where the changing rooms are and your aunt points you in the wrong direction. You end up in the birthday party room. It is empty so you change there. You come out for your lesson and discover that the glass you were surrounded by is one way. Everyone on the outside could see everything you were doing on the inside. Where is your God now?

    November 2, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • Opposing View

      Please tell us what that has to do with God. I'm itching to know...

      November 2, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
      • Where is your God now?

        She was itching too, and your god just let everybody watch. Thanks pal.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
        • Opposing View

          So your reasoning is that the eternal God who made the heavens and the earth should spend his time running around stopping stupid people from doing stupid things, right? And if he doesn't, he's a bad fellow, right?...

          November 2, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
        • Observer

          Opposing View,

          God apparently doesn't have time to prevent the mass killing of children, but has time to watch football games and decide if he'll answer the prayers of the Christians on offense or the Christians on defense (at least according to Christian athletes).

          November 2, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
        • Where is your God now?

          OV, that is hardly what makes him a bad fellow. I have read the bible. I am just saying, give this kid a break man.

          November 2, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
        • Opposing View

          Where... Even Lucifer has read the bible. So that's not saying anything. It's not God's job to run around solving everybody's problem or pulling everybody's chestnuts out the fire. You talk like God has some sort of responsibility to do certain things. He does not. He's God, and he does what he wants, when he wants, and like he wants. You were created to serve him, and not God created to serve you. And believe it or not, sometimes his will for you is to suffer. For example, if he allowed someone like you to suffer by putting you on your back and then holding you close to death, then even someone like you might have a change of heart about being an atheist…

          November 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
        • Observer

          If Opposing View was completely confident about the Bible, he'd answer questions.

          No answers. Just a troll???

          November 2, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      As far-fetched as your example is, having been a Christian, we would merely have said it was a test from God. No matter how horrendous the situation, it's always the simplest explanation that requires no proof. It just is.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Atheist here.

      Extremely stupid hypothetical. At no point has any religion claimed that any god protects people from embarrassment. If you really want to discuss where the fictional god would be in a hypothetical. lets take real world examples. Many people celebrated the fact that after 9/11 occurred there was a twisted cross out of the rubble that people said was a sign from god (specifically the christian one).

      Where was god when the planes were hijacked? Where was god when the planes struck the twin towers? Or the pentagon? We should be happy that a cross was created out of the rubble of a tragic event and yet this omnipotent god allowed for heathens to murder innocent lives?

      Discuss.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
      • AnnieB

        God it present – always! To the believer, that is the thing you always have to remember. God is not some Santa Claus in the sky who exists to give you everything you want. He is not a puppet master who controls our every action. He has plans for us, but we always have the opportunity to stray and do things our own way. To those who believe, seeing the cross in the twisted metal is a sign that God has not abandoned them, even in a time of great trial. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that bad things only happen to bad people, or that believers will spared pain. Nowhere does it say that God will protect the whole world from the evil that men do. Men have free will. How do you cope when bad things happen? Some people drink, some people take drugs, some people pray to the God. If the first two groups don't offend you, why should the last group? If you really think it is all just silly mythology, then how is it offensive?

        November 2, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Dumb as a stump.

          November 2, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
        • Chuckles

          @AnnieB

          Sorry, but that's hokum pure and simple. Offense isn't exactly the right word here. Do I take offense that someone else believes in a god or gods? No or rather, only insofar as it's an insult to rational thought. In general I just feel sorry for the person who needs a make believe god as a crutch.

          Back to what I was talking about though. What good is your god if he can't protect you from the trials that happen naturally in this world? Better yet, what about the trials that occur in this world due to natural causes (hurricanes, tornados, etc...). Why would god create such horrible events that take so many innocent lives and then do a "compassionate" thing like leave a twisted hunk of metal that looks like a cross? What you wrote is the product of a believer trying to rationalize why an omnipotent god would allow such horrible things to happen to his own believers. You want to believe that god is real, loves you etc... after a horrible event because it makes you feel better, that in no way makes him more real, it just means that you've found something to lean on.

          Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. However it's just sad that from out of this crutch so much hate, anger and xenophobia arises. From this belief in a god people have disowned family members and excommunicated friends. They have rejected reason and logic, all for the sake of feeling an ounce more of comfort from an invisible, make believe force after a particularly bad time in their life.

          November 3, 2013 at 3:26 am |
  19. George G

    AS a Christian – I would do my best to work out with these atheists so they can be content.
    That is the true Christian spirit.

    However – I would also hope that they see their selfishness (there may be a better word for this) to try to impose their view on the rest – the majority of which are probably Christians. But – I doubt that they will see it!?

    November 2, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • mjbrin

      how is this a selfish act? it seems more to me that forcing some one to sit through a prayer is a selfish act

      November 2, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
      • AnnieB

        If you choose to sit and listen to the prayer, and you don't believe in what is being said, how can it be offensive? The real issue is if allowing someone to say a prayer over their proceedings – knowing that there is no Christianity requirement – is an establishment of religion. It is not, so you are free to be offended, or to walk out during prayer time, or simply "tune out" to what is being said. It's easy – just pretend your mother-in-law is speaking to you!

        November 2, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
        • mjbrin

          "just pretend your mother-in-law is speaking to you!"
          I would agree with that if I was in her house but not if she was in my house.
          since it would be "our" (government) house I would stick up for myself as she would for herself....... so who would be the selfish one?

          November 2, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
        • G to the T

          Because in this setting, they aren't just people praying, they are my representatives in the government. In a very real way, they are the government. How can I feel they truly represent me if they insist on promoting a specific religious view? Isn't it better to be blind to that aspect to ensure equal treatment. Doesn't an atheist deserve a fair shake as much as a christian? Group activities (such as prayer) are intended to reinforce the group integrity. But when not everyone shares the beliefs of that group, how are they being representative OR inclusive?

          November 6, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      You have to understand that by keeping everyone's religion out, no one can be offended. I don't know why that seems to be so difficult to accept.

      November 2, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
      • AnnieB

        People who rely upon God to guide their decisions and to offer them discernment would be offended by not being allowed to do so. How can you be offended merely by hearing words you do not believe in? That's what I don't understand.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
        • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

          I don't understand why you have to have religious words in a government meeting. What's the purpose?

          November 2, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
        • Patti M

          It is offensive because it lets the person who must sit through a prayer that they don't believe in know that they are marginalized citizens. It is offensive because one's choice of religion and prayer is an intensely personal choice. When I attend an event that is open to all and a prayer is said reflecting one religious choice, I know that I am really an outsider. I accept that I must experience that at times. But, not when it comes to my government. When I attend a government function, I want to feel that I am a fully respected and included citizen – not one who is marginalized. If you do not know why it is offensive, then my guess is that you do not know what it feels like to be marginalized. I usually feel that in America I am a fully accepted and equal citizen – but whenever I have had to sit through a religious prayer at a government function, I wonder if America is really that different from most other countries where minorities are outsiders.

          November 2, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Can someone please tell me where the "selfishness" is here? Seriously I'm really confused.

      Person A is doing an action. Person B asks A to stop said action. Person A accuses B of being selfish for not allowing A to do the action.

      Who's the selfish one?

      I'm not trying to be snarky here I really just want to understand how this works that you can someone claim the selfish person is the one wanting the action to be stopped in order for the council to be more inclusive. Isn't that the opposite of selfishness?!

      November 2, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  20. Fritz Hohenheim

    I dont attend the meetings of our city council because, frankly, I am offended by the fact that they pray at each meeting. It doesnt matter what god they pray to, the fact alone that they mix religion with politics is offensive to me and I refuse to take part in any local politics for that reason.

    November 2, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
    • Patti M

      I can understand your position and I have sometimes felt that way. About a year ago, I attended a town council swearing in ceremony which was opened by a Catholic priest who said a prayer and used the sign of the cross to bless the audience. I felt personally violated. Fortunately, in my town, this was an unusual event and I do not have to listen to a prayer when I usually attend government functions. But, if those of us who object to mixing religion and government stop being involved, then what happens to our government? Will it move more in the direction of inserting religion into government with no one there to object? I intensely object to mixing government and religion in any way but I am afraid of what will happen if I choose to not be involved at all. That is why I am very worried about this Supreme Court case. I don't want to have to make such a decision.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:06 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.