Church lauds court decision on prayer

The Church has issued a statement reaffirming its position on the issue of religion in public life.

Issued on behalf of the Church by Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of Public Affairs, the statement was prompted by a Dec. 11 Utah Supreme Court decision upholding the right of the Salt Lake City Council to allow prayer in its public meetings.In it's entirety, the statement reads as follows:

"We are pleased with the Utah Supreme Court decision allowing prayer in public meetings. We also reaffirm the longstanding position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the overall issue of religion in public life.

"Under the U.S. Constitution, government must not sponsor religion or coerce the choices of individuals in religious matters. It is equally important that government not be seen as hostile to religion or the religious exercises of its citizens.

"The right to free exercise of religion should not be more restrictive in Utah or any other state than it is in the nation as a whole. Religion should continue to have an honorable place in the public life of our nation. There should be no bar to invoking and acknowledging the blessings of Almighty God by prayer in public settings. This, of course, should be done in a manner that respects the voluntary character of prayer and the religious diversity of the community."

The Supreme Court ruling reversed a 1992 decision by Judge Dennis Frederick of Utah's 3rd District Court in favor of the Society of Separationists, a group which had filed a suit claiming the city acted unconstitutionally when it spent public money to conduct prayers at city council meetings.

Taking a position it described as a middle ground between the Society of Separationists and Salt Lake City, the high court found that governmental neutrality in the use of public money or property underlies the state constitution.

In the majority opinion, Justice Michael Zimmerman wrote, "When the state is neutral, any benefit flowing to religious worship, exercise or instruction can be fairly characterized as indirect" because it flows to all who benefit from government.

He added that the constitution does not require hostility toward religion "nor does it permit the state to enter the quagmire of direct government subsidies of religious functions."

The ruling takes note of the fact that the state constitution was designed to prevent religious domination in view of the fact that the state was settled by members of the Church. But the ruling states there is not evidence to support a claim that allowing prayers before city meetings would allow religious domination.

In the sole dissenting opinion, Justice I. Daniel Stewart wrote that the framers of the Utah Constitution "sought to make clear the line that should separate church and state." The decision, he said, "sanctions a serious and highly regrettable erosion of freedom of religion."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed