The majority of Americans are not opposed to prayer at public meetings, as long as the prayer does not favor one religion over another, a recently released poll conducted by a New Jersey-based university found. Results of the poll come as several states are debating prayer at public meetings.
The poll, conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University in Hackensack, found that of the 883 voters questioned for the national poll, 73 percent said prayer at public meetings was fine "as long as the public officials are not favoring some beliefs over others." Another 23 percent opposed prayer at public meetings because such meetings "shouldn't have any prayers at all because prayers by definition suggest one belief or another."
Republicans were more likely to favor prayer at public meetings over Democrats, but 60 percent of Democrats still said prayer should be allowed.
The survey was conducted via telephone from Dec. 9 through Dec. 15, 2013, with 883 registered voters using the school's PublicMind polling system. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points total, and its findings were published on April 21.
Peter J. Woolley, professor of comparative politics at the university, said in a statement that the results of the poll prove America continues to value the uplifting power of prayer. "This has always been a praying nation, despite its very secular Constitution. People generally see generic prayer as harmless, if not uplifting, not as something that is oppressive."
Results of the poll come as legal cases challenging public prayer continue in Maryland, New York and California. The court case carrying the most weight is Greece vs. Galloway, currently sitting before the Supreme Court. Residents of Greece, New York, sued their city council, claiming the local government held predominately Christian prayers ahead of public meetings. The Supreme Court Justices are expected to reach a decision in June, and their ruling could set a precedent for public prayer in the U.S.
Commissioners for Carroll County, Maryland, are also currently embroiled a lawsuit regarding prayer at their local government meetings. The county is currently being sued by the American Humanist Association under the accusation that it held mainly sectarian prayers at its public meetings. A district judge has granted a temporary injunction against any sectarian prayers, and commissioners ultimately signed a resolution agreeing to obey the judge's decision, although there was some push-back from Christian commissioners who argued their First Amendment rights were being violated.
The city council of Pismo Beach, California, recently settled a court case regarding their public prayer. The council was sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for allowing a volunteer chaplain to hold predominately Christian prayers ahead of public meetings. City Council officials agreed to settle the lawsuit to avoid spending taxpayer money on further legal costs, and they now owe $47,500 in attorneys' fees.