The Supreme Court has heard arguments this week [last week about whether prayers at government
meetings, for example, a town council, can include the name of Jesus.
The case is Galloway v. City of Greece (which is a suburb of Rochester, NY), and it will likely
be decided in the summer (or possibly spring) of 2014. The case could potentially have strong
ramifications for this nation, especially in light of our extensive Christian heritage.
Jesus told His followers to pray in His name. That’s why people pray “in Jesus’ name. Amen”
Or, as is often heard in the Book of Common Prayer (from the Anglican Church, which was very
influential in the founding of America), “through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
George Washington was an avid reader of the Book of Common Prayer.
Different judicial circuits have ruled in ways that contradict each other on this issue. Hence, the
Supreme Court’s decision to clarify the matter.
One could wonder why there would even be prayers at all (much less prayers in the name of
Jesus) at government settings in the first place. But we should keep in mind that, historically,
opening legislative sessions or town councils often began in prayer and mostly in Jesus’ name.
When the ACLU challenged the notion of chaplains---paid by the state to offer prayers, Christian
or otherwise---the case went all the way to the Supreme Court in the 1980s. The prayers won; the
ACLU lost. In Marsh v. Chambers, the Court, said, We had chaplains before we were a nation.
Our tradition of praying in Jesus’ name in public shouldn’t surprise us, since at the time of
Independence, 99.8% of colonists were professing Christians (“Policy Review,” Fall ‘88, p. 44).
The same Congress that gave us the First Amendment, now used to suppress prayers and other
religious expression, were the same men who hired chaplains for the Senate and the House of
Representatives. The US Capitol building was used from its beginning until the 1880s for
Christian worship services on Sunday. Presidents Jefferson and Madison often attended these.
The first time the Continental Congress met, they wondered if the next day (9/7/1774) they
should open their proceedings in prayer. Virtually all were Christian, but different Christian
groups can pray in different ways. Samuel Adams said he was no “bigot.” He could hear a prayer
from a man who loved his God and his country. So they opened with a lengthy Bible-reading
(Psalm 35) and fervent prayer in Jesus’ name from a local Episcopal minister, Jacob Duche.
George Washington told the Delaware Indian chiefs when they brought their sons to learn the
Englishmen’s ways, “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the
religion of Jesus Christ.” (5/12/1779).
Washington went on to say, “Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise
intention.” (John Rhodehamel, ed., George Washington: Writings (1997), p. 351.)
Thomas Jefferson, in whose name so much of the cleansing of anything religious----no, anything
Christian---from the public square, would be shocked at this. For all his heterodox views later in
life, he regularly (perhaps daily) read the teachings of Jesus Christ, for his own edification.
Jefferson said, “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my
observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus.” (To William Canby, 9/18/1813).
My friend, constitutional attorney David Gibbs III of the National Center for Life and Liberty, is
fighting in this current case for the government to not censor prayers at the behest of the ACLU.
David told me, “What the ACLU is arguing is that praying in Jesus’ name is establishing a
religion. The reality is that their goal is to establish a non-Jesus religion.” David noted the ACLU
is advancing cases only against anybody praying in Jesus’ name, not in any other tradition.
David adds, “Do we really want judges deciding what words are okay and what words are not
okay, in religious prayers? The ACLU is bullying government officials (by threat of expensive
lawsuits) to eliminate traditions that have been happening since our government’s founding.”
I remember when a liberal lady called a conservative talk show during the HHS-mandate
controversy. She advocated that Christians be forced to fund abortions, even though it violates
their consciences. She said, “If you don’t like it, then go off and start your own country!” Wow,
lady, I think we did. And because we began with that Christian base, people of all faiths or no
faith are welcome here.
But why should those who continue the tradition to pray in Jesus’ name, yes, even in official
government meetings, have their prayers censored?
Dr. Jerry Newcombe is a key archivist of the D. James Kennedy Legacy Library, a spokesman
and cohost of Kennedy Classics. He has also written or co-written 23 books, including The Book
That Made America: How the Bible Formed Our Nation and (with D. James Kennedy), What If
Jesus Had Never Been Born? www.truthinaction.org.