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Cleveland City Council May Join Historic Practice of Opening Meetings with Prayer, Says Religious Liberty Law Firm

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September 9, 2019

News Release
For Immediate Release: 9.9.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Multiple decisions by U.S. Supreme Court, Sixth Circuit reject arguments that so-called “separation of church and state” prevent legislative prayers.

Cleveland, OH—First Liberty Institute sent a letter to members of the Cleveland (OH) City Council explaining that opening their public meetings with prayer is Constitutional under U.S. Supreme Court precedent and a recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeal for Sixth Circuit, Bormuth v. County of Jackson.

“Opening public meetings with prayer is one of the most beloved and long-standing traditions of our republic,” said Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty Institute.  “Members of the Cleveland City Council should be confident that opening their sessions with prayer is constitutional.  Such prayers are not only lawful, they reflect the very best of traditions of our nation’s long history.”

For years, the Cleveland City Council began meetings with an invocation.  In recent years, prayers were replaced by a moment of silence.  Some current members want to reestablish the prayers, though some on the council cite the so-called “separation of church and state” as a reason to prevent the practice of legislative prayer that multiple courts have upheld as constitutional.

The Council meets tonight at 7 pm.

In 1983 in Marsh v. Chambers, and again in 2014 in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court of the United States approved the practice of opening a legislative meeting with prayer.  At the end of its last term, the U.S. Supreme Court noted in The American Legion v. AHA that religiously expressive practices, like legislative prayer, bear “a presumption of constitutionality.”  Even as recently as last month, in neighboring Pennsylvania, a federal circuit court agreed, upholding the practice of opening meetings of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with prayer in Fields v. Speaker of the Pa. House of Representatives.

In its letter to Council members, First Liberty adds, “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in which Cleveland resides, recently noted its agreement with the U.S. Supreme Court. But, not only did the Sixth Circuit simply agree with Marsh and Town of Greece, in a decision from the Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, the court further concluded that the First Amendment permits the lawmakers themselves to lead legislative prayers prior to their own meetings.”

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