"It's Unconstitutional."May 14, 2014
Those were the words of a Republican member of the House General Laws committee regarding a bill that was scheduled to be debated in a late night meeting during the 2010 General Assembly session. It was said as members of the committee, who wanted to send the bill to the House Courts committee frankly so it would be killed, were kind enough to let me know they were killing the bill that way. (They ended up not acting on the bill, so it died in General Laws.) The conclusion that the bill was “unconstitutional” could only have come from testimony given by a local attorney who makes that claim about every single bill that comes before the General Assembly that protects religious liberty; an attorney who just happened to go to law school with a prominent member of the House of Delegates.
So what did the bill that was deemed “unconstitutional” by our friends do exactly?
It prohibited local government bodies that allowed prayers prior to their meetings from censoring those prayers.
The bill was in response to confusion caused by conflicting federal court rulings around the country, efforts by atheist groups to intimidate local governments into expunging prayer from meetings or face lawsuits, and misinterpretations of Supreme Court rulings that dated back decades on the very subject. Several counties in Virginia, in fact, had bowed to the bullying of the secular left and removed prayer as part of their meetings.
Flash forward to last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld as Constitutional… wait for it…uncensored prayers before local government bodies! In a sweeping ruling, the majority of the Court held that such prayers are not simply Constitutional, but part of American tradition that dates back pre-Constitution. It also slapped down the argument that the Court itself required “non-sectarian” prayers at public events, an argument made by secularists and the primary argument that was made by the ACLU and the local attorney noted above in every testimony before the General Assembly.
The most frustrating aspect of dealing with the General Assembly isn’t the “opposition,” or members of the General Assembly who are clearly on the opposite side of our worldview. Their hostility is to be expected. The frustration comes when those who claim to be “conservative” or friendly to our cause hide behind the arguments of the opposition or, worse, accept the arguments of the opposition as valid simply because they come from an “attorney” or someone they deem an “expert” on an issue.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. The Supreme Court made it explicitly clear that those who claimed that sectarian prayers at government meetings were unconstitutional were categorically wrong. They were wrong whether they were Democrats or Republicans.
To the Supreme Court ruling I say, Amen.