The Supreme Court heard arguments this week about whether prayers at government meetings, for example, a town council, can include the name of Jesus.
The case is Galloway v. City of Greece (which is a suburb of Rochester, NY), and it will likely be decided in the summer (or possibly spring) of 2014. The case could potentially have strong ramifications for this nation, especially in light of our extensive Christian heritage.
Jesus told His followers to pray in His name. That’s why people pray “in Jesus’ name. Amen” Or, as is often heard in the Book of Common Prayer (from the Anglican Church, which was very influential in the founding of America), “through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” George Washington was an avid reader of the Book of Common Prayer.
Different judicial circuits have ruled in ways that contradict each other on this issue, hence, the Supreme Court’s decision to clarify the matter.
One could wonder why there would even be prayers at all (much less prayers in the name of Jesus) at government settings in the first place. But we should keep in mind that, historically, opening legislative sessions or town councils often began in prayer and mostly in Jesus’ name.
When the ACLU challenged the notion of chaplains — paid by the State to offer prayers, Christian or otherwise — the case went all the way to the Supreme Court in the 1980s. The prayers won. The ACLU lost. In Marsh v. Chambers, the Court said, we had chaplains before we were a nation.
Our tradition of praying in Jesus’ name in public shouldn’t surprise us, since at the time of Independence, 99.8% of colonists were professing Christians1.
The same Congress that gave us the First Amendment, now used to suppress prayers and other religious expression, were the same men who hired chaplains for the Senate and the House of Representatives. The US Capitol building was used from its beginning until the 1880s for Christian worship services on Sunday.
The first time the Continental Congress met, they wondered if the next day (9/7/1774) they should open their proceedings in prayer. Virtually all were Christian, but different Christian groups can pray in different ways. Samuel Adams said he was no “bigot.” He could hear a prayer from a man who loved his God and his country. So they opened with a lengthy Bible-reading (Psalm 35) and fervent prayer in Jesus’ name from a local Episcopal minister, Jacob Duché.
On May 12, 1779, George Washington told the Delaware Indian chiefs at the Middle Brook military encampment that when they brought their sons to learn the Englishmen’s ways, “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.”
Washington went on to say, “Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.”
Thomas Jefferson, in whose name so much of the cleansing of anything religious — no, anything Christian — from the public square, would be shocked at this. For all his heterodox views later in life, he regularly (perhaps daily) read the teachings of Jesus Christ, for his own edification.
In 1813, Jefferson wrote in a letter to William Canby said, “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus.”
Constitutional attorney David Gibbs III of the National Center for Life and Liberty is fighting in this current case for the government not to censor prayers at the behest of the ACLU.
David told me, “What the ACLU is arguing is that praying in Jesus’ name is establishing a religion. The reality is that their goal is to establish a non-Jesus religion.”
David noted the ACLU is advancing cases only against anybody praying in Jesus’ name, not in any other tradition.
David adds, “Do we really want judges deciding what words are okay and what words are not okay, in religious prayers? The ACLU is bullying government officials (by threat of expensive lawsuits) to eliminate traditions that have been happening since our government’s founding.”
I remember when a liberal lady called a conservative talk show during the HHS-mandate controversy. She advocated that Christians be forced to fund abortions, even though it violates their consciences. She said, “If you don’t like it, then go off and start your own country!” Wow, lady, I think we did. And because we began with that Christian base, people of all faiths or no faith are welcome here.
But why should those who continue the tradition to pray in Jesus’ name, yes, even in official government meetings, have their prayers censored? They would have to censor the Constitution, since it ends with “Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.”
- Policy Review, Fall 1988, p. 44 [↩]