U.S. Supreme Court Declines Va. Council Prayer Case

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12 declined to intervene in a case that upholds a city council’s policy of requiring any prayers before government meetings be non-denominational.

The Fredericksburg, Va., city council, in enforcing this policy, refused to allow Hashmel Turner, a Baptist minister sitting on the council, to pray in the name of Jesus before a council meeting. Turner argued the policy violated his religious freedom rights.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. In an opinion written by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was sitting on the court by special designation, the court said legislative prayer is government speech and that Turner’s rights were not violated.

“Turner was not forced to offer a prayer that violated his deeply-held religious beliefs,” O’Connor wrote. “Instead, he was given the chance to pray on behalf of the government. Turner was unwilling to do so in the manner that the government had [prescribed], but remains free to pray on his own behalf, in nongovernmental endeavors, in the manner dictated by his conscience.” (Turner v. City Council of Fredericksburg)