In its 5-4 ruling, the high court decided that the practice was part of the nation’s fabric, that the prayers are mostly ceremonial and that they do not violate the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution as long as the prayers do not denigrate other non-Christians or proselytize.
Beeville Mayor David Carabajal was emphatic: “It’s a wonderful decision, and it’s better than going to jail, because I was going to continue opening the meetings with a prayer whether it was legal or not.”
The reaction by Bee County Judge David Silva, who is an ordained minister, was equally predictable. “I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “Our nation was founded on the belief of a supreme being.”
But, he predicted the debate is not over. Eyeing the 5-4 split decision, Silva said one judge retiring and another being appointed could alter the political stance of the court.
“It will come up again,” he says.
“I’m glad to see the ruling,” says Coastal Bend College President Paul Jaure, who often prayed in his invocations he leads at the beginning of board meetings that the high court would rule in favor of the tradition.
“It’s what the people want,” he says.
Nick Cardenas, president of the Beeville Independent School District board, agreed. “Oh, fantastic!” he exclaimed on learning about the decision.
“God has to be in our lives, or we’re not going to make it,” he says. “We’ve been starting our meetings with a prayer for the last 27 years that I’ve been on the board.”
The ruling stemmed from town meetings in Greece, New York, which opened with a prayer by volunteer ministers.
A Jewish layman and a Wiccan priestess sued, saying the city was violating the Constitution.
A federal court ruled against the city; an appeals court overturned it.
In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “the inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.”
However, Justice Elena Kagen, writing for the court’s four liberal justices, said, “I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality—the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.