(image courtesy of Facebook)
Asked if he thought that the prayer at an official public meeting led by a county-paid official in a facility paid for by taxpayers violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, Finn responded that the county is not requiring anyone to pray and not attempting to establish a religion. However, The US Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the Establishment Clause also prohibits government from favoring religion over non-religion.
Finn also seemed to misconstrue and even make up parts of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to back up his claims that the prayer at their meeting actually supports the Constitution. He cited the passage “we the people …ordain through God” which appears nowhere in either document.
In another attempt to justify prayer, Finn said that the phrase " blessings of liberty" means a blessing from God. Of course the word blessing, while it can refer to a prayer or a gift from a god, in this instance clearly means benefit.
(image courtesy of Facebook)
Commissioner Vice Chairman Jack Gerst (R) expressed his concern that the commissioners were being "bullied" into stopping their "tradition of prayer." He also claimed that he polled Montour County residents and "not one person took exception to the County’s tradition of opening meetings with a prayer."
The Montour County Commissioners meet at 11:00 am on the second Tuesday of the month in the Montour County Courthouse located at 29 Mill Street in Danville.
Mr. Finn called the opening prayer “a nice tradition that keeps everyone
calm and allows us time to think and focus on positives” before the meeting
begins. As for any concern over Mr. Marks’ status as a paid employee of the County
invoking prayer at taxpayer expense, Mr. Finn said Mr. Marks is also a citizen of the
United States. As such, he has the right to speak, say a prayer or petition the government.
Concerning the issue of Mr. Marks’ salary, Mr. Finn said based on Mr. Marks’ annual
salary, the cost would average out at 25 cents per prayer. Mr. Finn said there is no
violation of the establishment clause as the County is neither requiring anyone to do
anything nor attempting to establish a religion. The opening prayer is merely, “trying to
open the meeting with a positive influence, not trying to establish a religion,” Mr. Finn
The County is not doing anything to violate the Constitution but in fact is working in
unison with the Constitution, he said. All one has to do is read the Preamble to the
Constitution, which states in part the intent to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” and “do
ordain and establish this Constitution.” The “Blessings of Liberty” certainly would be a
blessing from God, said Mr. Finn, noting the Declaration of Independence establishes
“God-given rights.” As the founders of this country left behind a government of
sovereign kings, he said, “we the people …. ordain through God.”
Mr. Gerst said the County doesn’t force prayer, nor should the County be bullied into
discontinuing the tradition of prayer. Mr. Gerst said he polled a number of County
residents on this issue and not one person took exception to the County’s tradition of
opening meetings with a prayer.