Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and the Foundation for Moral Law filed an amicus curiae ("friend-of-the-court") brief in federal court Monday arguing that prayers offered in the name of Jesus at Cobb County, Georgia Commission meetings do not violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The brief, filed in the Pelphrey v. Cobb County, Ga. case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, maintains that the trial court properly rejected the arguments of the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who called for forced censorship of all Christian prayers at Cobb County meetings.
According to Judge Moore, "When the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are not able to bully or threaten local officials to stop Christian prayers at public meetings, they often run to a federal judge to invent such a rule as if the Constitution required it."
"In this case out of Cobb County, Georgia, however, the Cobb County officials stood up to the legal threats and successfully defended their right to acknowledge God with prayer in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," Moore said. "We are vigorously fighting the appeal of the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State in this case."
This case began when several Cobb County residents, represented by the ACLU of Georgia and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sued the Cobb County Commission and the Cobb County Planning Commission for their practice of inviting local clergy members to give an opening prayer at county meetings.
According to Moore's group, a majority of Cobb County residents are Christians and, "not surprisingly, so were many (but not all) of the invited clergy. Also not surprisingly, many of the Christian clergy mentioned Jesus Christ in their prayers."
The ACLU and Americans United sued in Pelphrey to stop all such references to Christ in prayers and to force Cobb County to censor the prayers of its invited clergy members.
The trial court judge, Federal District Judge Richard Story, rejected most of the ACLU and Americans United's arguments, holding that prayers which mention Jesus Christ do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Judge Story refused to impose a prayer censorship order on Cobb County and his opinion relied heavily on the case of Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Nebraska legislature's historical practice of opening in prayer.
Judge Moore and the Foundation argue in their brief that Judge Story came to the correct conclusion that public prayers do not violate the Establishment Clause because that Clause states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." While Marsh v. Chambers is a helpful opinion, it is neither law nor the final word on the matter. The Constitution is "the supreme Law of the Land," as it states in Article VI, and the text of that document should determine whether something passes constitutional muster. In this case, the public prayers are not "law[s] respecting an establishment of religion," as those words were understood at the time the First Amendment was ratified.
While the Judge held that excluding certain faiths was unconstitutional in the past, he allowed prayers, including those in the name of Jesus, to continue.