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Court should rule public prayer constitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Town of Greece, New York v. Susan Galloway is to consider whether Christian prayers at town board meetings are constitutional ("Justices to hear prayer case," Nov. 4). The U.S. Court of Appeals based in New York held that such prayers violate the Constitution because they represent "an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint."

The First Amendment provides that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof[.]" That amendment prohibits the Congress — that is, the federal government — from establishing a national religion as did King Henry VIII who broke with the Catholic Church and established the Church of England in the 16th century. Note that the First Amendment refers to "an," rather than "the," establishment of religion. By its use of "an," the First Amendment prohibits the federal government from passing legislation to establish something not previously recognized in America; that is, a national religion. Moreover, regarding religion, what provision of the Constitution mandates that "the free exercise thereof" is restricted to the confines of a church, synagogue, temple, mosque, etc.? Religious people live their religion on a daily basis; their religion is not something that is limited only to religious observances on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays at their places of worship.

How is it that the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from regulating religion, has been construed by the federal courts, based on various Supreme Court rulings, to prohibit high school football players from praying prior to a game for the safety of the players, invocations at public school events, a Christmas creche on public property, display of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, prayers at the beginning of town or county board meetings? None of those activities has anything to do with Congress or establishing a religion. It seems to me that the chief effect of such activities on atheists and non-Christians is annoyance or the sense of being slighted, just as many are annoyed by "In God We Trust" on our currency and "one nation under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance.

However, the Constitution does not guarantee anyone freedom from annoyance or from a sense of being slighted. Those perceptions, real as they may be to some individuals, do not trump the First Amendment. Regarding religion in America, the fact is that Christian churches outnumber all others by approximately 200 to one. Government (federal, state or local) endorsement of the Christian religion, or acknowledgment of a divine being, is not synonymous with "an establishment" of religion.

For those who are irritated by the Christian religion, or religion in general, try "live and let live." You are not being forced to participate in any religion or religious activity. You are merely in a situation where you have to listen to something you do not want to hear. Welcome to the club. You are not being harmed in any real sense. As to the Supreme Court, hopefully, it will overturn the ruling of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and render moot those prior rulings on church and state, the reasoning of which have no legitimate connection to the actual wording of the First Amendment.

David R. Holstein, Parkville

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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