High Court Debates Prayer At Government Meetings

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The United States Supreme Court is considering that question in a case involving prayers at the start of a New York town's council meetings.

The high court is weighing a federal appeals court ruling that said the Rochester suburb of Greece, N.Y., violated the Constitution because nearly every prayer in an 11-year span was overtly Christian.

What the Supreme Court decides could have an impact on how government meetings begin in central Ohio.

At least one Ohio city has taken a proactive approach to make its prayers more inclusive.

Columbus recently made changes to city council policy to make its prayers representative of multiple beliefs.

Council member Hearcel Craig offered up the following opening prayer at a city council meeting in late October:

"Dear God, thank you for Thy loving kindness and tender mercies we see manifest every morning. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, Thou art God."

But other forms of prayer will soon join Craig's, according to Columbus City Council communications director John Ivanic.

Ivanic says Columbus city council members received a memo on November 4, encouraging them to invite various faith leaders into the council chambers.

“Columbus is an open and diverse community and we want the prayers to be reflective of an open and diverse community,” Ivanic said.

Ivanic says council meetings used to open with prayers from Catholic priests, but he says council members began thinking about changing that tradition late this past summer.

“We have a diverse council with diverse beliefs and we want to be able to be reflective of those beliefs,” Ivanic said.

Ivanic says those beliefs will be well-represented while the Supreme Court decides what place prayer has in government meetings.

The town of Greece, N.Y., argues that the Supreme Court settled the issue in the case Marsh v. Chambers thirty years ago.  

That ruling says an opening prayer is part of the nation's fabric, and not a violation of the First Amendment.

The court's ruling is expected next June.