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Queens welcomes ruling on prayer at gov’t meets

People pray on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court after speaking in favor of the court's ruling. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
TimesLedger Newspapers

Queens elected officials were quick to praise the diverse roster of spiritual leaders tapped to give invocations at City Council meetings following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that opening local government meetings with sectarian prayers is constitutional.

They were less vocal about how the decision bodes with prayer at NYPD precinct community council meetings.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that the town of Greece, in upstate New York, was not violating the law by selecting mostly Christians to serve as chaplains for the month and recite a prayer before town meetings began.

Two Greece residents sued because they believed the practice violated their religious or philosophical views. They sought an injunction that would limit the town to “inclusive” prayers that referred to a “generic God,” according to the court’s ruling.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that requiring invocations to be nonsectarian would force elected officials to determine and enforce what is acceptable and “involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree.”

So long as the chaplains do not denigrate others or seek to convert attendees, Kennedy said sectarian prayer “invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends.”

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that Greece’s prayer tradition violated the “norm of religious equality” because the town did little to solicit chaplains of diverse backgrounds. She said this practice did not set an appropriate tone for citizens who came to petition their government on personal issues and town business.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) praised the ruling, saying it “acknowledged the fact that we as a government get our authority and our power to serve our constituents from a higher power.”

Both Ulrich and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said they were in favoring of having leaders of various faiths give invocations at Council meetings.

Crowley said in a statement she “accepts the use of prayer during public meetings as long as every religion and faith is offered an equal chance to participate.”

Elected officials seemed less sure of how the city handles prayers at community board and police precinct council meetings, which often are citizens’ first stop in getting involved with issues in their community.

Borough President Melinda Katz said she did not believe any community boards in Queens included prayers at their meetings.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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