Missouri votes tomorrow on a ballot resolution that will protect a right to pray in public. The utterly unfocused proposal is animated by a sense that Christians (who constitute 80% of the Missouri population) are victims. The resolution will easily pass and be challenged with tough sledding for many of its applications in court. Even more interesting to my mind is a prayer issue raised in Sussex County Delaware.
The legislature there has been starting its session with the Lord’s Prayer for more than 20 years. U.S. District Court Judge Leonard P. Stark has enjoined the practice on the ground that the practice endorses Christianity. In lieu of appeal, the legislature has offered the compromise of saying Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .”
Obviously, the Lord’s Prayer is an important part of the Christian tradition although its content is not explicitly Christian. Psalm 23 is a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and Marsh v. Chambers authorized legislative prayers that fit within that joint tradition. But the country has become significantly more pluralistic since the Chambers decision in 1983 (making the discrimination against Buddhist, Hindus, atheists, and agnostics more socially salient), and I would guess that Jews generally (not to mention many mainline Protestants) would be uncomfortable with legislative prayer of any kind. That could suggest the decision is vulnerable to attack. On the other hand, the Court has become far more conservative since 1983 and even less sensitive to the interests of religious minorities.
To my mind, this makes the question of what the lawyers should settle for in Sussex County extremely interesting. The judge was insisting on a settlement by mid-July, but that apparently has not happened, and the clock is ticking.
I was interviewed about this a couple of weeks ago. Here’s a link. Shiffrin Discusses Public Prayer in Delaware
WDEL, Jul 13, 2012