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posted: 7/10/2014 5:01 AM

Towns can be inclusive on prayer

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The Supreme Court's recent ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway should trouble anyone who values religious liberty.

The court ruled that municipal governments can sponsor prayers that reflect majority religious views. However, some are already misinterpreting this ruling as saying that only majority religious views should be expressed at local government meetings.

Local council meetings are an important time for citizens to come together and have a say in how their communities are run. No one should be pressured or coerced to participate in a religious exercise that does not match their beliefs. Yet that's exactly what could happen as a result of the court's ruling.

Religious minorities, including nonbelievers, are unlikely to be fairly represented at these meetings. Even if town councils choose to have sectarian prayers, the Supreme Court made it clear that there are limits on the prayer practices.

Prayers can't condemn other religions or nontheists, or tell them to convert. What's more, councils can't discriminate against minority belief traditions and must be inclusive in choosing their speakers.

That means that if a Muslim imam, Jewish rabbi, Humanist celebrant, or member of any other faith asks to deliver a prayer or invocation, council members can't deny their request on the basis of religion.

America is religiously diverse, and it is becoming more diverse over time. Although the court's ruling is out of touch with that reality, our local governments still have a chance to make sure they respect that diversity and the people they were elected to represent.

Democracy is, after all, about inclusion. I don't want my neighbors to feel like they can't participate in local government because of their religious or philosophical beliefs. That's why we'll be keeping a close eye on our local governments to make sure they respect everyone.

Matt Lowry


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