by Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent
WASHINGTON D.C. (Worthy News)– Before many towns meetings begin, local lawmakers often lead a short prayer prior to the start of official business, but some citizens are taking issue with those prayers: at least five lawsuits nationwide, from Florida to California, are currently challenging pre-meeting prayers.
Although not every complaint goes all the way to court, when it does, courts can have difficulty trying to define what is the acceptable way to pray in public; some lawyers think the issue will again go back to the U.S. Supreme Court, which previously declined to hear it.
Lawmakers who defend these prayers cite the nation's founders, claiming to continue the established tradition of prayer before public meetings, but citizens who are uncomfortable with that tradition claim any prayer before a town meeting is bad mix of religion and politics.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said her organization is receiving more complaints about pre-meeting prayers. In response, FFRF mails missives urging lawmakers to discontinue the prayers; the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State send similar warnings.
Brett Harvey, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said liberal groups are making a coordinated attempt to intimidate local governments into abandoning pre-meeting prayers, often threatening expensive litigation that many towns simply can't afford.
"It's really kind of a campaign of fear and disinformation," he said.
Back in 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court had approved prayer before legislative meetings, ruling it didn't violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause that prohibits the government from officially sanctioning any one religion.
However, as the Court didn't define any boundaries for this type of prayer, courts today often disagree on what prayer is and isn't permissible before public meetings.