Cobb commission can keep pre-meeting prayers

A federal judge in Atlanta has rejected an attempt to silence prayers before Cobb County Commission meetings that refer to “Jesus Christ.”

In an order issued late Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story denied a request for a preliminary injunction to halt the prayers. Seven plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, had filed suit, contending the prayers were an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Story denied the injunction after finding the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the commission’s practice results “in the impermissible appearance of an official preference for one sect or creed to the exclusion of others.”

The 65-page order noted that Cobb does not employ chaplains or have county employees say the prayers, but invites clergy of various religious sects to give the invocations. Among the faiths invited to perform the invocation have been representatives of Judaism and Islam.

“To be sure, many of these speakers, in offering their invocations, identify the deity to whom they direct their prayer,” Story wrote. “In that respect, they surely convey their alignment with one religious creed to the exclusion of others.

“But viewed cumulatively, given the diversity in the denominations and faiths represented, it is difficult to extrapolate from any one speaker’s affiliation the preference on the part of the Cobb County government.”

Absent any evidence that the county’s inclusion of diverse faiths is merely a token gesture to avoid getting the courts involved, “such a practice, in the view of this court, mitigates strongly that the practice violates the mandates of the Establishment Clause,” Story wrote.

Because Story could not find, in his initial review of the case, that the ACLU has a substantial likelihood in ultimately proving the practice is unconstutitonal, he declined to issue an injunction.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA
Jan. 14, 2006
Bill Rankin

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday January 15, 2006.
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