Late Monday, a bill that would have provided clarity to local government bodies should they implement pray policies at their meetings was defeated in a Senate committee by one vote. One Republican, retiring Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Glen Allen), joined seven Democrats in defeating the bill, though Senator Stosch was not in the room for most of the testimony on the bill, and left a “proxy” vote instead of being there to vote.
HB 1437, patroned by Delegate Dickie Bell (R-20, Staunton), would not have required local government bodies to have prayer. It simply would have provided guidance to localities for how to craft a prayer policy based on the Greece decision and the policy the Supreme Court upheld. It also would have assured local governments that, should they follow these guidelines for a prayer policy, the Attorney General or his designee will defend the policy in court.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Greece decision upheld the constitutionality of prayer prior to public government meetings.
Brett Harvey, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who was on the team that won the Greece case, came to Richmond from Arizona to testify in support of the measure. He told the committee that the bill was reflective of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Opponents to the bill, including the ACLU, made several arguments against prayer policies that they made to the Supreme Court that were summarily dismissed by the Court, yet they continue to use the failed arguments in committee. Senator Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield) argued persuasively against opponents and several times exposed the weaknesses in their arguments. Unfortunately, the member of the committee who cast the deciding vote was not in the room to hear any of the arguments.
The good news is that, regardless of today’s vote, the Supreme Court has made it clear that prayer before government meetings – whether they be boards of supervisors or school boards – is absolutely Constitutional. If your locality hasn’t instituted a prayer policy I hope you’ll encourage them to do so. Our friends at ADF will be happy to assist. And, if you are a pastor, I hope you will take the opportunity to pray at your local government meetings if they do have an opening prayer. Every elected official needs to be reminded that there is a greater authority that they must ultimately answer to for their decisions, and prayer at the beginning of these meetings is an important reminder of that truth.