Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio warned that the right of politicians to pray before official government meetings is now “under assault” and vowed to fight against those “who wish to eliminate religion from our public life” on Thursday.
Rubio made the comments in an opinion piece published in response to a case involving the town of Greece, New York. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the town is violating the First Amendment by allowing guest chaplains to lead the body in prayer before each session.
The Republican senator from Florida and 33 colleagues in the Senate have signed on to an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to uphold the right of legislative bodies to pray.
“In doing so, we are not just taking a stand for one town under assault by those who wish to eliminate religion from our public life,” Rubio wrote in an op-ed for the Christian Post on Thursday.
“We are also taking a stand for a tradition of legislative prayer that was adopted at our founding, has helped unite our nation us for over two centuries, and serves as a daily reminder of all the blessings that God has bestowed on our exceptional nation,” he said.
The Constitution flatly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
As with past arguments over questions of religion in the public sphere, opponents say legislative prayer violates the establishment of religion. Supporters say forbidding legislative prayer prevents them from freely exercising their right.
Under current practice, the U.S. Senate prays every day before the session opens.
“Legislative prayer has roots as deep as the country,” Rubio wrote. “In 1789, the first Senate elected the Episcopal Bishop of New York as its first Chaplain to lead the body in prayer. As our country has grown more diverse, so has the practice of prayer in the Senate. Chaplains have been drawn from a variety of Christian faiths, and the Senate has regularly been led in prayer by guest chaplains from other major religions, including Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.”
Rubio warned the ruling could have a harmful chilling effect on religious practices in the country.
“If allowed to stand this decision would jeopardize not just legislative prayer, but it would also push the country one step further towards the ‘naked public square’ where religion is stigmatized, feared, and something best kept private,” he said.