Court Backs City Council’s Ban On Sectarian Prayer

     RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – The city council in Fredericksburg, Va. did not violate the First Amendment rights of a Baptist pastor, who is also a council member, by banning him from ending the opening prayer “in Jesus’ name,” the 4th Circuit ruled.

     Hashmel Turner is a pastor of the First Baptist Church of Love. When it was his turn to deliver the prayer before council meetings, he would end by invoking the name of Jesus Christ.
     The city’s law director tried to stave off an impending lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties union by requiring the prayer to be nondenominational. Instead, he got a lawsuit from Turner.
     Judge O’Conner affirmed the district court’s ruling that the policy does not violate Turner’s rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, because the pre-meeting prayer served a governmental purpose.
     “Given the focus of the prayers on government business,” O’Conner wrote, “we agree with the district court that the prayers at issue are government speech.”

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