Valley lawmakers sign amicus brief in prayer case

constitutionDel. R. Steven Landes, (R-Weyers Cave), along with Sen. Emmett W. Hanger, Jr, (R-Augusta County), and Delegates Dickie Bell (R-Staunton), Ben Cline (R-Amherst), and Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) have signed on to the Amici Brief in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which has now been filed with the Supreme Court of the United States. They joined with the Virginia Christian Alliance and a number of other groups and legislators in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the United States Supreme court in the highly publicized public prayer case.

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to reevaluate its current framework for deciding cases involving religious speech or symbols in public settings and to return to a historically correct interpretation of the Establishment Clause to prohibit only government policies that coerce citizens to support or practice religion. The legislators note that both sessions of the House and Senate in the Virginia General Assembly are opened by prayer each day during session.

It is argued in the brief, that the Court’s prevailing modes of Establishment Clause analysis, which focus on whether a bystander might perceive a message of government “endorsement” of religion, are at odds with the Clause’s original meaning and result in censorship of religious speech by citizens and government officials. The brief also reminds the Supreme Court of America’s religious heritage and points out that an intellectually honest application of the Court’s modern Establishment Clause doctrine would result in invalidation of countless national traditions and practices, including the Pledge of Allegiance, various National Monument inscriptions, Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations, Supreme Court opening traditions, the National Day of Prayer, and the national motto, “In God We Trust,” which is inscribed upon various government buildings and our currency.

The prayer case arose out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which held that the Town of Greece, New York, had created an unconstitutional “establishment” of religion by allowing local clergy members to offer invocations at town meetings on a voluntary, non-discriminatory basis. The Court of Appeals held that this policy violated the Establishment Clause because, in fact, most of the clergy members who volunteered for invocations represented the Christian faith.

Landes represents the 25th House District, which includes parts of Albemarle, Augusta, and Rockingham Counties. Hanger represents the 24th Senate District serving Augusta, Greene, Madison, Staunton and Waynesboro, and part of Culpeper and Rockingham. Del. D. Bell represents the 20th House District serving Highland, Staunton, Waynesboro, and part of Augusta and Nelson. Cline represents the 24th House District which serves Bath, Buena Vista, Lexington and Rockbridge, as well as part of Amherst and Augusta. Gilbert represents the 15th House District serving Page and Shenandoah Counties and part of Rockingham and Warren.

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