County and local governments in northern New York are grappling with new questions surrounding the practice of beginning public business with Christian prayer.
The Plattsburgh Press-Republican is reporting this morning that Essex County officials are at odds over whether to resume distinctly Christian prayer before board of supervisors meetings.
According to reporter Lohr McKinstry, the prayers were begun several years ago.
The practice was discontinued recently after County Attorney Daniel Manning III told supervisors they needed a policy to cover the prayers, which should be nondenominational in nature.
But Supervisor Ronald Moore (R-North Hudson) tried to move a motion this week to resume Christian prayer at the board’s regular monthly meetings.
His resolution was tabled so Manning could provide them with more information on how to legally go about it.
The county appears to be moving toward a non-denominational prayer. Meanwhile, Washington County faces similar questions. This from Jon Alexander’s article earlier this month in the Glens Falls Post Star:
Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff has spent the past two years as the county board’s chaplain. He opens the monthly board meeting with sometimes politically charged sermons.
The issue blew up earlier this year when Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idleman criticized Haff’s usage of terms and phrases like “God” and “Our Lord,” alleging Haff’s prayers are unconstitutional because they essentially serve as an official county endorsement of Christianity.
NYCLU Capital Region Director Melanie Trimble in a letter sent Friday to county board Chairman John Rymph said Washington County’s monthly benediction violates the establishment clause of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Earlier this spring, a court rules against an upstate town — Greece, NY — which had begun meetings with a specifically Christian prayer. This from the Associated Press:
An upstate New York town violated the constitutional ban against favoring one religion over another by opening nearly every meeting during an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the town of Greece, a suburb of Rochester, should have made a greater effort to invite people from other faiths to open monthly meetings. The town’s lawyer says it will appeal the ruling in Galloway v. Town of Greece.
What do you think? Should there be a specifically Christian moment of worship before public meetings? If so, does it matter whether the prayer reflects the views of one particular Christian group?
Do we lose something if we remove this kind of worship from civic life? And what about the growing percentage of New Yorkers who are not Christian, how should their values be respected?
This is a tough one, and we’ve had some rocky flare-ups over matters of religious faith, so be thoughtful and keep it civil.
Remember, we’re not talking about the merits of anyone’s particular faith or beliefs here: we’re talking about the pros and cons of bringing those traditions into the civic and political arena.