Summary: Can a Christian pray when the name of Jesus is prohibited?


Great Falls and the Great Prayer Controversy

John 14:13-14


2385 words

Please turn in your Bibles to the gospel of John, chapter 14, verses 13-14.

13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.

The Controversy

[ The following summary of the events at Great Falls was derived mostly from the US Court Appeals decision found at]

I titled this sermon, “In his Name.” Perhaps a better title would be “Great Fall and the Great Prayer Controversy.” Great Falls SC is a little town in Chester County with a population of slightly over 2,000. In the past, it was known mostly for its fishing and hunting, but for the last five years Great Falls have been enmeshed in controversy.

Darla Kaye Wynne, a citizen of Great Falls, is a self-proclaimed witch. That is, she is a follower of the Wiccan faith (which is a recently invented New Age version of witchcraft). Darla Wynne regularly attended Great Falls Town Council meetings, and at a Council meeting in late 2000, she objected to the Town Council’s practice of referring to Jesus Christ in its prayers. Mayor Starnes responded to the effect that : “This is the way we’ve always done things, and we’re not going to change.”

Prior to the next Council meeting in February 2001, Council Member Barbara Hilton posted a message on the Town’s website, urging the town’s citizens to call council members with opinions on this subject. Subsequently, several Christian ministers wrote letters on behalf of their church members expressing support for continuance of a Christian prayer at Council meetings. Numerous citizens signed a petition urging the Council to "not stop praying to our God in heaven." At the February meeting, ministers and others presented letters and petitions to the Town Council. That meeting was packed out. Usually Great Falls town meetings have only half a dozen spectators. At that meeting, about a hundred citizens showed up.

On August 20, 2001, Wynne filed suit. The complaint alleged that the Town Council’s consistent practice of including a "Christian prayer ritual" violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Wynne sought an injunction ordering the Council to "cease and desist forthwith from holding any Christian prayers."

On July 11, 2003, there was a trial, which Wynne eventually won. The court permanently enjoined the Town Council "from invoking the name of a specific deity associated with any one specific faith or belief in prayers given at Town Council meetings."

Since then the town council with the overwhelming support of the citizens of Great Falls has appealed the case. They have lost every appeal. In July 2004, a three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower judge’s decision against the town and said that the town of Great Falls should pay Wynne’s legal expenses to the tune of about $70,000. That is quite a chunk of money for a town that small. The Supreme Court has refused to hear the case so that is where it stands now.

The ruling by the Federal Fourth Judicial Circuit effects not just Great Falls but several Southern states, including South Carolina. The ACLU recently sent letters to cities in Oconee and Anderson counties threatening lawsuits unless those cities stop using the name of Jesus in prayers before meetings.

Jesus is Lord

Now none of this is surprising. Given the way the Supreme Court has been ruling for the last 20 or 30 years, everyone who is familiar with this issue expected this outcome. The town of Great Falls was ill-advised to spend so much time and money on what was a lost cause from day one. But realize that as it stands now, after the decision by the federal court, it is illegal in South Carolina to offer Christian prayers at any city, county, or state meeting.

This includes prayers that do not specifically state the name of Jesus but are identified with Christianity. For example, the Lord’s Prayer does not use the name of Jesus, but it is universally recognized as the prayer of Jesus; It is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples; therefore, it also is prohibited.

Now, I do not know what the York city council, the county council, or the school board, are going to do about this. I suppose that they have been advised by attorneys about the legal ramifications of this case. I certainly do not see any point in following the example of Great Falls. That is over, that is done with.

But the question that arises is this: Given these kinds of prohibitions on prayer at public meetings, can a Christian pray at such meetings at all? This is a question that effects you. If you are present a public meeting, and they ask you to pray, but they say, “We don’t want you mentioning Jesus in any way, shape, or form. You can pray, just don’t bring up that name.” What do you say?

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