States want Court to nullify ban on prayer

Prayer before public meetings is commonplace in most West Virginia counties.

In fact, West Virginia is one of 49 states that opens its legislative sessions with prayer.

On Thursday, a press release from the Office of the West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced that the Mountain State joined 22 other states in an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that declared a New York town’s practice of opening its legislative sessions with prayer a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Cause.

Many governmental officials across the region said this week they open their meetings with prayer – and intend to continue doing so.

Parsons City Council opens its meetings with prayer, a practice in which they take great pride.

“We are proud to say a prayer at the beginning of our meetings,” said Jason Myers, Parsons city administrator and treasurer. “As long as I am here, they will all begin with a prayer.”

Elkins Mayor Van Broughton echoed Myers comments.

“Prayer before public meetings dates back to the beginning of this great nation, when our founding fathers had prayer,” Broughton said. “Residents don’t have to participate. To me, having a prayer adds solemnity to the meetings and serves as a reminder to make good decisions and to represent the citizens of Elkins in a positive manner.

“Eventually every community may have to deal with this issue of pre-meeting prayers,” Broughton added. “The lower courts are mixed on what they believe to be appropriate and acceptable, and I believe the Supreme Court may weigh in to resolve the differences over acceptable ways to pray. Since I can remember, prayer has always been a part of the Elkins City Council meetings, and I pray that as mayor, this tradition will continue. I support the state of West Virginia in filing a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to support this issue.”

Randolph County Commissioner Mike Taylor said the commission changed from a moment of silent meditation to the recitation of a standard prayer in the beginning of April of this year. Taylor said the decision was based on public input.

“We will continue to open our meetings with prayer,” Taylor said. “We will continue this practice until advised by court ruling or other authority not to do so. It is interesting because the West Virginia State Legislature opens with prayer. We will just sit back and watch to see how this goes.”

In the West Virginia State Legislature, the Senate president and House speaker each designate one member of the chamber to act as its chaplain; the chaplains provide a short, nondenominational prayer at the start of each session, unless a citizen is invited in by a member of the respective chamber to give the opening prayer.

But at the Tucker County Commission meetings, clergy from the county are on a rotation, giving many different voices to the pre-meeting prayers. The prayers before the Tucker County Commission are said prior to the opening of the meeting.

“We have always had prayer before the opening of our meetings since I have been a commissioner,” said Diane Hinkle. “I think it is nice that we rotate who leads the prayer each time.”

The brief was filed in the case of Town of Greece, N.Y. vs. Galloway. It asks the U.S. Supreme Court to create an unambiguous ruling permitting prayer before legislative bodies without requiring legislative leaders to screen prayers for sectarian references.

“West Virginia and other states filed this brief because opening a legislative session with prayer dates back to the founding of our Republic,” Morrisey said. “West Virginia has a proud tradition of beginning a public meeting with a time for prayer, and I believe this practice should continue and the free expression of faith should not be quashed.”

Attorneys General from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia also joined in the amicus brief.