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Copyright (c) 2012 Nova Law Review
Nova Law Review

ARTICLE: Can the City Council Praise the Lord? Some Ruminations About Prayers at Local Government Meetings

Summer, 2012

Nova Law Review

36 Nova L. Rev. 481


Marc Rohr*


I. Introduction

The short answer is: Yes, a city council can give praise to a deity-at least through the medium of prayer offered at a council meeting to a generic "God." But can such a prayer be addressed to, say, "our Lord, Jesus Christ"? The answer to that question is far from clear, as the disparate decisions rendered by federal appellate courts in two recent cases demonstrate. 1

II. A Tale of Two County Commissions

In a decision rendered in 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that even sectarian prayers are constitutionally permissible at governmental meetings, as long as the governmental entity has not acted with the impermissible motive of advancing a particular religious belief or affiliating the government with a specific faith. 2 The result of that decision was the rejection of an Establishment Clause challenge, brought by citizens and taxpayers of Cobb County, Georgia, in the following circumstances:

Both the Cobb County Commission and the Cobb County Planning Commission have a long tradition of opening their meetings with a prayer offered by volunteer clergy or other members of the community. The clergy have represented a variety of faiths, including Christianity, Islam, Unitarian Universalism, and Judaism, and their diverse prayers have, at times, included expressions of their religious faiths.

. . . .

. . . The majority of the speakers are Christian . . . . The taxpayers contend that, between 1998 and 2005, 96.6[%] of the clergy . . . were ...
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