U.S. Appeals Court: Town council can't pray in Jesus' name
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously upheld a ruling against "sectarian" invocations at the Great Falls (S.C.) town council meetings.

A typical prayer went like this:

Our Heavenly Father we are here tonight to discuss town business. We ask that you would clear up our minds and our hearts from animosity that we might face these issues and address them with an open mind tonight. We pray that all decisions made tonight would be most beneficial for the town and the citizens. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.

Everything is constitutionally fine except for that penultimate sentence, the court ruled. "The prayers sponsored by the Town Council 'frequently' contained references to 'Jesus Christ,' and thus promoted one religion over all others, dividing the Town's citizens along denominational lines," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote.

The Supreme Court has long made clear that the Constitution prohibits any such displays of "denominational preference" by the Government. … Public officials' brief invocations of the Almighty before engaging in public business have always … been part of our nation's history. The Town Council of Great Falls remains free to engage in such invocations prior to council meetings. The opportunity to do so may provide a source of strength to believers, and a time of quiet reflection for all. This opportunity does not, however, provide the Town Council, or any other legislative body, license to advance its own religious views in preference to all others, as the Town Council did here.

Town attorney Brian Gibbons called the ruling disappointing, and told The Herald of Rock Hill that he'll ask the full 4th U.S. Circuit ...

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Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's editorial director. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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