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Monday, May 05 2014 05:48 PM

Surprised by court's decision? Depends which side of the prayer issue you're on

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    By AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson

    In this March 18, 2014 file photo, Pastor Mike Metzger, right, of First Bible Baptist Church, leads a moment of prayer at the start of the Greece Town Board meeting in Greece, N.Y. The Supreme Court said Monday that prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity.

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By The Bakersfield Californian

As far as Jacquie Sullivan is concerned, the pendulum is finally swinging in the right direction again.

The five-term Bakersfield city councilwoman was both surprised and ecstatic to learn Monday that the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the practice of public prayer prior to local government meetings.

"I am amazed. I am thrilled. It was the right thing to do," she said.

Sullivan, the driving force behind a 2002 effort to convince the city council to prominently display the national motto "In God We Trust" in city hall's council chambers, has been a player in the national prayer debate for years. In 2004, she started the nonprofit organization In God We Trust -- America Inc. to encourage cities and counties to display the motto, and 350 local governments have since done so.

"The First Amendment is the freedom of religion, but we have gone backward on it," she said. "Now, for the Supreme Court to say it's fair (to pray) is wonderful. Our constitution makes it clear that our liberties are a gift from God."

Ken HIll of Bakersfield, an outspoken, self-proclaimed atheist who has written and spoken on the issue of prayer in public settings, said he wasn't surprised by the High Court's decision.

"With the court makeup the way it was -- a majority that wears its religion on its sleeve -- it was not shocking," he said.

"This is a decision that walks all over more than 100 years of court decisions that saw it the other way," Hill said. "It gives the impression that (Christianity) is the official religion. But if people are not members of the majority religion they feel like they're outsiders. You're left with a choice. You either put up with it or you walk out, and neither one of those is a good thing."

However, Sullivan said adherents of any religion may lead the city council's pre-meeting prayer. "Just get on the list," she said.

She acknowledged that Christian clergy lead the prayer vastly more often.

"Why wouldn't there be more Christian prayers?" she said. "We have more Christians."

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