: One board member wants to begin each meeting with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance. How do we handle the request without alienating members?
: Interesting question. Although prayer is not illegal, whatever decision you make will please some and alienate others.
Civic prayer has been a tradition in our country since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. The pledge of allegiance
was added to civic functions in the late 1800s. Congress declared an annual National Day of Prayer ("NDP") in 1952, in a joint resolution signed by President Truman.
36 U.S.C. § 169h.) None of these were controversial until the 1960s when significant change roiled through the nation challenging institutional traditions at all levels. The courts became a battle ground for church/state issues.
In a 1983 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayer at public meetings followed a long, historic tradition and was constitutional. (Marsh v. Chambers
(1983) 463 U.S. 783.) Citing public prayers from George Washington's inaugural address to George Bush's cabinet meetings, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that "prayers and the invocation of divine guidance have been accepted as part of American political discourse throughout the history of this Republic." (DeBoer v. Village of Oak Park
(1999) 53 F. Supp. 2d 982.)
Thus far, the church/state battle has not affected homeowners
associations because HOAs are private organizations, not governmental entities. As a result, the "wall of separation" argument does not apply to board meetings. Even so, many are uncomfortable with public prayer and each board must decide for itself whether to use it. It should be noted that a policy adopted by one board does not bind subsequent boards.
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