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Court: Prayers at government meetings can be directed to Jesus

By The Associated Press
09.12.06

ATLANTA, Ga. — Cobb County commissioners won't have to exclude Jesus Christ from the prayers at their meetings under a new federal court ruling.

U.S. District Judge Richard Story ruled on Sept. 8 that clergy who pray at the meetings could "identify the deity to whom they direct their prayer." But he also took issue with the way commissioners choose the clergy who appear at the meetings because it was clear that "certain faiths were categorically excluded from the list."

The case was filed in August 2005 by the Georgia Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of seven people who felt the references to Jesus were an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity.

ACLU lawyer Maggie Garrett said she was "pleased that Judge Story reaffirmed that repeated sectarian prayers can violate the Constitution" but disappointed that the judge didn't feel Cobb crossed the line.

"We feel in this case, it did cross the line," she said.

The ACLU has not decided whether to file an appeal, Garrett said.

Sam Olens, chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, wrote in an e-mail that he is "thrilled" about the ruling.

"Our policy of engaging all religious faiths is constitutional," he wrote.

Across the state, local government boards routinely open meetings with prayers, including many that invoke Christ's name. State legislators bow their heads to invocations when the Legislature is in session.


Update
11th Circuit refuses to edit Ga. county's pre-meeting prayers
Judges vote 2-1 to uphold Cobb County practice of allowing Christian prayers, saying federal judiciary shouldn't wade into practice of parsing content. 10.29.08

Related

Groups urge S.C. councils not to invoke Jesus in opening prayers

But state attorney general says he won't tell local governments what to do despite Supreme Court's refusal to hear appeal from town that defended sectarian prayers. 10.05.05

Federal judge: Ind. legislative prayers can't favor 1 religion

Court issues permanent injunction barring House Speaker Brian Bosma from permitting sectarian prayer as part of official business. 12.02.05

Federal judge tosses Va. councilman's prayer lawsuit
Court says prayers delivered at start of council meetings are 'government speech,' therefore cannot promote Christianity or any other specific religion. 08.17.06

Ohio lawmaker to allow sectarian prayer before House sessions
Speaker Jon Husted is asking that prayers not mention specific legislation or advocate certain positions. 10.10.07

Legislative prayer

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