No Prayer at town meeting
Local activist Marilyn Hackett was successful this week in her long-running suit seeking an injunction against the conduct of an official prayer at the Franklin Town Meeting.
Rejecting a number of bogus procedural challenges and some equally spurious arguments by the town, the Franklin Superior Court ruled that including prayers at the beginning of a town meeting violates the Vermont Constitution's prohibition on compelling anyone to "attend any religious worship, finding that "The court rejects the town's suggestion that the history of prayer at town meeting renders it non-religious and concludes that the prayers at issue constituted `religious worship'".
The court also ruled that the prayer at town meeting violated the constitutional provision that "nor can any person be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of religious sentiments, or peculia[r] mode of religious worship." The court held that to establish a practice that required Ms. Hackett to remain outside of the meeting room while part of the meeting was being conducted, simply because the town insisted on the prayer, would deprive her of the right to attend the entire meeting.
The town's argument that the prayer does not constitute religious worship is of particular interest here. Whether it's "under god" in the Pledge of Allegiance, "In god we trust" on coins, or religious invocations at the opening of sessions of Congress, those who want to impose their religion on others are fond of arguing that these are not true religious statements, but simply neutral acknowledgements of the religious beliefs of the majority of the population. One wonders, of course, why the religionists fight so hard to keep them if they are not there to express their religious beliefs, or whether they would so willingly accept a change to "under allah" or "In allah we trust".
As a result of its decision, the court granted Ms. Hackett a declaratory judgment that the town's practices have violated her constitutional rights, granted her a permanent injunction prohibiting the prayer at town meetings, and will be holding another hearing to determing whether to award her damages. The full decision can be read at the ACLU web site.
Congratualtions to Marilyn Hackett, the ACLU, and ACLU volunteer attorneys Bernie Lambek and Julie Kalish!