The American media took note of the May 5 Supreme Court 5-4 decision on prayer before municipal board meetings.
The ruling came in response to a suit first brought by an atheist and a Jew who objected to the mostly Christian prayers they were exposed to at town board meetings in Greece, N.Y.
Public response to the Supreme Court’s decision was mixed. Jewish and Hindu groups, as well as atheists in America, were unhappy with the court’s ruling, though one wonders whether Jews or Hindus would have brought suit in a majority Jewish or Hindu community that had mostly Jewish or Hindu prayers.
Invocations at board meetings in the town of Greece (actually a city of 100,000) have been mostly by Christian ministers because of the makeup of its population. But according to one report, it had a prayer in 2008 by a Wiccan priest, who prayed, “Great goddess Athena, great god Apollo, we ask that you impart wisdom in these proceedings today. Help the board make the right, informed decisions that will benefit the greater good of the community.”
The reasons for the Supreme Court ruling were fairly simple. As Justice Kennedy wrote, “Many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government.” In other words, many municipal governmental bodies have a sense of accountability, that they answer not only to the voters but also to a higher authority, and need wisdom and guidance, as even the Wiccan prayer noted.
And, said the court, these prayers do not proselytize, nor are they intended to. A prayer offered by a Catholic priest, for example, is not aiming to win converts to the Catholic Church. It merely invokes divine guidance for a town board in the execution of its task. That may lead to a sub-conscious hope, however, that the invocation may prompt people to believe that a board’s decisions are the result of divine guidance and carry divine approval!