The troubling nature of the prayer ruling [Letter]

A divided Supreme Court upheld the practice of public prayer before local government meetings ("The local religion," May 6). The Carroll County Commissioners can resume their practice. This Orthodox Jewish former member of the House of Delegates is saddened.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the New York town of Greece's practice is compatible with the Constitution, not violating the First Amendment. He wrote: "...prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals before they embark on the fractious business of governing serves (a) legitimate function." The court's decision is not surprising given its 1983 precedent upholding the Nebraska legislature's invocation.

In Maryland, invocations have been an accepted practice. Even U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (a fellow congregant) when he was the Speaker of the House of Delegates held them. With little choice, I accepted them. For 20 years, I stood daily, often with and an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.

For me, the issue is not philosophic or academic. It is a deep seated part of me. Jewish history is replete with forced conversions. On two of the most sacred holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the "Unesaneh Tokef" prayer is recited. It was composed over 1,000 years ago when the Archbishop of Mainz ordered that Rabbi Amnon, one of his friends and advisers, have his limbs amputated one by one after refusing to convert.

Certain elected officials view public prayer as their freedom of speech. Others view it as bordering on violation of separation of church and state. But for me, it is being forced to stand for someone else's prayer.

Theodore Levin, Pikesville

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