First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s top religious liberty law firms, is telling city council members in Cleveland, Ohio that opening meetings with prayer does not violate the U.S. Constitution.
The proposed invocation made headlines in June when Ward 1 City Councilman Joe Jones told Cleveland.com he wants the council to open its regularly scheduled meetings with prayer – a longtime tradition in the city’s past.
In a letter to Council President Kevin Kelley, Ward 8 Councilman Mike Polensek called for prayer to be reinstated.
“Councilman Jones and I think some others are really intent on wanting to bring that back, but a few of their colleagues on the bench seem to be reluctant to do that, and I think that largely stems from this misinformation that there is this dividing wall of so-called separation of church and state which doesn’t actually exist in the law or even in the Constitution,” said First Liberty Institute attorney Jeremy Dys on The Todd Starnes Show.
“That’s kind of scared them off from starting their meetings with public prayer, and so we sent them a letter really just to give them the confidence and courage that that’s something that Cleveland can certainly do,” Dys added.
Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones told Cleveland.com that “when you’re in the majority, whether it’s religion or culture or race … it’s easy to be insensitive.”
Basheer Jones is Muslim, and while he said he would not oppose prayer in council chambers, he does prefer it be done “in a universal way.”
“If you’re a Christian, you’re intentionally going to pray in the name of Jesus,” Todd Starnes pointed out.
“Exactly,” replied Dys. “The 6th Circuit has ruled those prayers are the speech of the individual lawmakers, and they’re welcome to pray according to whatever faith tradition they come from, and so whether it is Councilman Joe Jones who may come from Christian background, or someone who comes from a different tradition, they’re able to lead those prayers according to their own faith tradition.”
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld legislative prayers in Town of Greece v. Galloway.
“There are ways that you have to go about this so that they’re not engaged in any kind of what the Supreme Court said proselytizing behavior or some sort of grandstanding that is out there,” said Dys. “None of that usually comes in the case with the traditional prayers that have been offered, but so long as they stick within this idea that this is supposed to be used as a time to solemnize the fractious business of governing, as Justice Kennedy wrote in his opinion, then that’s perfectly acceptable and we should welcome that.”