Decision is out of step with other rulings, watchdog group says
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has criticized a ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the use of sectarian prayers before government meetings in Cobb County, Ga.
The court ruled 2-1 that Cobb County’s practice of opening meetings with prayers that include references to specific deities is constitutional. Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia argued that under Supreme Court precedent, communities must use non-sectarian prayer.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “The Constitution gives government officials no authority whatsoever to prefer one religion over others. This decision is very disappointing.”
Americans United and the ACLU pointed out that most of the prayers were Christian in character. The organizations represented local taxpayers who opposed the county’s prayer policy.
Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan said the ruling in the Pelphrey v. Cobb County case conflicts with a 1983 ruling by the Supreme Court declaring that prayers used before government meetings must be non-sectarian. Other federal courts have upheld that decision.
Judge Bill Pryor wrote today’s misguided opinion. Pryor, formerly the attorney general of Alabama, was known for his activism on behalf of causes during his tenure in that state. He vigorously defended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who sought to erect a Ten Commandments monument in the state Judicial Building.
Said AU’s Khan, “Citizens of all faiths and none should feel welcome at county council meetings. When meetings begin with sectarian prayers, some people are inevitably going to be left out. That needlessly divides the community.”