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City, nation face questions on prayers at public meetings
Apr 03, 2014 | 2810 views | 0 0 comments | 77 77 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Prayer - file
Prayer - file

KAYSVILLE - A concern brought to light at a recent Kaysville City Council meeting may be resolved with a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

Scott Belliston, a Kaysville resident, threw a series of questions at Mayor Steve Hiatt and the council during their March 18 meeting, regarding what is listed on the agenda as an “opening” and has traditionally been a prayer.

“Have you explicitly invited people of multiple denominations to give prayers at these meetings?” he asked.

“Do you believe it would be useful to allow people the opportunity to leave the room before giving a prayer so they are not required to participate in the prayer?” said Belliston.

The “opening” is provided for any who’d like to participate, Hiatt responded.

“In the absense of a volunteer we’ll ask one of the council members,” he said. “It can be a quote, a statement, a thought, and oft’ times it is a prayer.”

A challenge similar to Belliston’s came up in 2008 in the town of Greece, a community in northwestern New York.

According to information outlined by Pew Research, Christian prayers had been offered by Greece’s town board since 1999.

Two residents, one Jewish and another an athiest, challenged the prayers as representing an establishment of religion by government, something the First Amendment does not allow.

A ruling by a district court came down in favor of the town, citing a 1983 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Marsh vs. Chambers.

In that decision, the court determined that prayers in the Nebraska legislature did not violate the establishment clause, “because Congress and state legislatures had engaged in the practice since the founding of the republic,” according to the Pew report.

The district court ruling in favor of the town of Greece, however, was overturned by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012. In that case, the court ruled that the prayers represented a single religion.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the case in November. Its determination on the case is expected this week.

In the Kaysville meeting, Belliston asked why policy documents don’t outline the procedures for an “opening,” and why minutes don’t reflect when they take place.

“I would encourage the city council to be more direct and more explicit in their parameters,” said Bellisston, “so they can ensure everybody is given the opportunity in a public space to participate according to their religious conscience.”

 During Belliston’s remarks, Hiatt said he had consulted with the city attorney after receiving an email from Belliston, and that the city’s practice is not unusual.

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