Rev. Hashmel Turner
Excluding anyone who prays “in Jesus name” from a rotation of officials who open city business meetings is a fair and reasonable way “not to exclude or disparage a particular faith,” according to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion on the dispute.
Her reasoning left former U.S. Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who was removed from the military over the issue of praying “in Jesus name,” wondering how that conclusion had been reached.
“Justice O’Connor showed her liberal colors today, by declaring the word ‘Jesus’ as illegal religious speech, which can be banned by any council who wishes to ignore the First Amendment as she did. Councilman Rev. Hashmel Turner should run for mayor, fire the other council members, and rewrite the prayer policy. And if he appeals to the Supreme Court, I pray he will win, in Jesus’ name,” he said.
The dispute arose when Turner, a resident of Fredericksburg, Va., and a member of the town council, was part of a rotation of council members who took turns bringing a prayer at the council meetings. He ended his prayers “in Jesus name.”
That, however, offended a listener, who prompted the involvement of several activist groups that threatened a lawsuit if the elected Christian council member continued to be given the same rights to choose how to pray as other council members.
The city then adopted a non-sectarian prayer requirement, imposing a ban on any reference to “Jesus.”
“Turner was not forced to offer a prayer that violated his deeply-held religious beliefs. Instead he was given a chance to pray on behalf of the government,” O’Connor wrote.
Not so, said Klingenschmitt.
“Actually he was directly forced to conform or face the punishment of exclusion,” he said. “Actually he was denied the change to pray on behalf of that government.”
The case was handled by the Rutherford Institute on behalf of Turner, who sought to have his beliefs recognized just as the beliefs of other council members.
John Whitehead, the founder and chief of the Rutherford Institute, told WND at the time arguments were made that freedoms of speech and religion are burdened in the U.S. today with a politically correct atmosphere that endorses or at least allows any sort of religious acknowledgement, except for Christians.
O’Connor wrote: “The restriction that prayers be nonsectarian in nature is designed to make the prayers accessible to people who come from a variety of backgrounds, not to exclude or disparage a particular faith.”
Klingenschmitt’s statement said: “Ironically, she admitted Turner was excluded from participating solely because of the Christian content of his prayer.”
“The Fredericksburg government violated everybody’s rights by establishing a nonsectarian religion, and requiring all prayers conform, or face punishment of exclusion,” he said.
WND previously reported when the appellate panel heard arguments, O’Connor stated the case was black and white in favor of the city.
“It is government speech, and the rule seems perfectly reasonable,” she opined.
The ban on “in Jesus name” came in 2005 after Turner already had delivered about 100 prayers, many including those words, over four years.
Whitehead said then the case might be forwarded to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Because he wants to pray to a particular God, he’s not being treated equally,” he told WND.