According to the Boston Herald, the board of selectmen in Upton, Massachusetts cited a constitutional “separation of church and state” while rejecting a resident’s request to hold a peaceful prayer vigil on the town common. (Note: the term “separation of church and state” is nowhere to be found in the U.S. Constitution or any state constitution) The vigil was supposed to be part of about 7,500 “rosary rallies” held nationwide by America Needs Fatima, a nonprofit Catholic group.
“It was quite troubling,” said Michael Casey, the resident who made the request. “They felt that if we were there praying, we would offend people. It was just a peaceful prayer rally. Why were denied to have that, I don’t know.”
However, two noted constitutional attorneys say the selectmen didn’t have a right to deny the request. “The state cannot sponsor religious celebrations or events or services,” said First Amendment attorney Harvey Silverglate, “but that doesn’t mean that religious events and celebrations or speeches cannot take place in the public sphere. They can.”
“The free expression of religion cannot be suppressed by any town council,” said Chester Darling, another constitutional lawyer. “Those selectmen belong in federal court. They should be permanently enjoined from doing that ever again.”
Two days later Upton town officials confessed that they “misunderstood” what the founding fathers meant by separation of church and state when three selectmen put the kibosh on Casey’s request to hold a peaceful prayer vigil on the town common.
Town Manager Blythe Robinson said the selectmen were dead wrong. “They realized that this was an unfortunate decision and a misunderstanding of the law.”
Source: Boston Herald