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Utah Atheist's Right to Pray Upheld

April 12, 2003|From Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — An atheist who sought to pray during City Council meetings for deliverance from "weak and stupid politicians" received the blessing of the Utah Supreme Court on Friday.

The court ruled that if officials in suburban Murray want to pray during government-sponsored events, that opportunity must be equally accessible to all who ask.

The state Supreme Court's 4-1 ruling reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit that Tom Snyder, 71, had filed in state court in 1999.

"Thanks to the Supreme Court for reaffirming that constitutional protection," Snyder said. "There should be no government preference for one religion over another or a preference for religion over nonreligion."

He and his lawyer have been pursuing the lawsuit since 1994, when Snyder filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Salt Lake City suburb for allowing other prayers before meetings but refusing to let him offer a prayer addressed to "Our Mother, who art in heaven."

Among other things, the prayer asked for deliverance "from the evil of forced religious worship now sought to be imposed upon the people ... by the actions of misguided, weak and stupid politicians, who abuse power in their own self-righteousness."

Richard Van Wagoner, the attorney who represented the city before the high court, said he and his clients were disappointed. Murray "has been placed in a constitutional dilemma," he said.

Friday's ruling was based on a 1993 decision that upheld Salt Lake City's right to hear prayers during official events as long as the opportunity to deliver the prayer was nondiscriminatory.

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