By Tom Precious
ALBANY -- The state's bishops are out quickly applauding the U.S. Supreme Court's decision today upholding the right of a town board in Monroe County to start its proceedings with a prayer.
The court, by a 5-4 margin, said the prayers held before town board meetings in Greece do not violate the Constitution. Critics said the prayers before the Greece town board meetings say they have been heavily tilted toward Christian beliefs.
Richard Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the Catholic Church's bishops on policy matters, said:
“In its decision in the Town of Greece case, the Supreme Court has correctly interpreted the Constitution and reaffirmed the rightful place of ceremonial prayer in the proceedings of American government. Some in our country may wish it otherwise, but a simple reading of the Declaration of Independence (‘The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America’) confirms that this nation was built on the foundational understanding that our rights are derived from our Creator, whereas government is the instrument made by the people ‘to secure these rights.’
"We do not owe our thanks to government for our rights; the Constitution was and is merely a written and interpreted expression of the rights already granted us by God,'' he said in a statement. "Our uniquely American public ceremonial prayer is a recognition of these ‘self-evident’ truths, and those who seek to undermine this practice do so, unwittingly perhaps, but systematically and steadily, at the peril of the Republic.”
Legislative sessions at the state Capitol are opened with a prayer; the prayers are often led by representatives of a range of faiths.