The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to allow prayers before government meetings quieted what had been a sometimes contentious debate over the appropriateness of public prayer.
In Rapid City and elsewhere, threats of lawsuits were received from groups opposed to public prayer as a breach of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Although the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the First Amendment, it has been interpreted by some as intending to bar religious expression such as prayer at government functions.
The Supreme Court’s decision settles the argument between those who support prayer in the public square and those who are opposed.
The court’s acceptance of public prayer validates the Rapid City Council’s decision last year to defy threats of a lawsuit if its tradition of praying before council meetings didn’t stop.
In January 2013, the Rapid City Council received a letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation threatening legal action if the council didn’t end the practice of an invocation before meetings. Council members voiced their support for the prayers, which are offered by members of the Rapid City Ministerial Association. The council also asked for the city attorney to draw up a policy on prayer.
The proposed prayer policy was rejected by the city council, and the prayers have continued.
Meanwhile, several groups offered to pay the city’s legal bills if it was sued by the Freedom From Religion group.
The Supreme Court’s decision to allow prayers before meetings ends Freedom From Religion’s threat of litigation and validates the Rapid City Council’s support of its prayer tradition.
We are thankful that the Supreme Court has removed the possibility of a lawsuit that would cost taxpayers to fight.
We never saw a problem with public prayer. If some people object to prayers spoken before government meetings, we take note that no one is being forced to participate in the prayers and are free to leave if they so choose.
There are many divisive issues that face Rapid City and other communities; the fact that some people voluntarily bow their heads in prayer before discussing these important matters should not be made contentious.