The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention filed a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court Friday, Aug. 2, calling for religious liberty protection for public prayer before city council meetings in the case Greece v. Galloway.
Most recently, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower-court opinion and ruled that prayer before a New York towns council meetings was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is scheduled to review the Second Circuit opinion on appeal.
The ERLC brief argues the towns prayer policy does not violate the First Amendments Establishment Clause and that prayer by an individual is not classified as government speech.
"When the government allows religious speech in a public forum, it does not endorse any or all messages or establish religion, the brief states. It establishes freedom.
The ERLC brief also states the Second Circuit was wrong in requiring a "perspective that is substantially neutral amongst creeds." This would unconstitutionally compare "the content of the prayer with a state-established concept of neutrality," the brief states.
ERLC President, Russell D. Moore, reacts to the case.
As a Baptist, I don't want the government taking on the mission of the church. Just as our Baptist forefathers did, we believe that the gospel doesn't need the public purse to advance the cause of Christ.
"The Town of Greece case is about a government seeking to establish a state-ordered civil religion that crowds out the most basic rights of freedom of speech. That is not what our ancestors, and their allies among the American Founders, meant by religious liberty. We shouldn't have a state-sponsored Baptist church, I agree, but we shouldn't have a state-sponsored Unitarian church either, and that's what some are attempting.
In the Town of Greece case, private citizens are speaking, praying for a blessing on the proceedings of their city council. The government doesn't write the prayers, and doesn't coerce anyone's conscience. To object to this is to insist not only that the government be neutral to religious expression but to insist that the government be hostile to religious expression by citizens. We stand with those who believe in the freedom of speech, including religious speech, in the public square as a prized part of our liberty."
The Southern Baptist Convention is Americas largest non-Catholic denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBCs ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.
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