Magazine article The Christian Century

Most Favor Generic Prayer for Public Meetings

Magazine article The Christian Century

Most Favor Generic Prayer for Public Meetings

Article excerpt

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT will soon rule on the constitutionality of prayer at governmental meetings. A new survey finds that U.S. voters clearly favor such prayer--as long as the prayer is generic and not specifically Christian.

Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind survey asked about attitudes on high-profile cases before the court, including Greece v. Galloway. That case addresses whether elected officials can open public meetings with religiously specific prayers, such as praying in Jesus' name.

A Jew and an atheist brought suit in Greece, New York, saying the Christian prayers excluded many citizens and violated the Constitution, which bans government establishment of religion. Even when the town began inviting non-Christians to give invocations, the "establishment" issue remained a question.

Greece officials "were trying their best not to offend anyone by making prayers as generic as possible. In this survey we asked if this is an acceptable way to approach the problem.

Three in four people said yes," said Peter Woolley, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey.

Most registered voters (73 percent) said that "prayer at public meetings is fine as long as the public officials are not favoring some beliefs over others." And 23 percent said "public meetings shouldn't have any prayers at all because prayers by definition suggest one belief or another."

The key, however, is that this case centers on generic prayer that is "harmless, if not uplifting," said Woolley. …

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