Sussex County offers expert testimony in prayer case
Wilmington — A federal court judge has asked Sussex County to offer expert opinion in the Mullin v. Sussex County prayer lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Leonard Stark denied a joint request for summary judgement or dismissal and instead gave Sussex County an opportunity to file a supplemental brief and experts' opinions addressing the plaintiffs' expert's opinion from David Harrington Watt.
Stark said the court may need more information to make a decision. “The court is not today making a determination that further factual development will be necessary; it is only recognizing that there may be,” Stark said.
Sussex County Council begins weekly meetings by reciting the Lord's Prayer. According to court testimony offered Jan. 11, the practice has been ongoing for more than four decades.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is representing four Sussex County residents who have filed suit to halt council's practice because it favors one religion over another, which the organization says is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's establishment clause.
In the battle of competing experts, Sussex County provided declarations Jan. 27 in U.S. District Court in Wilmington from John Dominic Crossan, an Irish-American religious scholar, former Catholic priest and best-selling author, and James Edwards Jones, president of the Islamic Seminary Foundation and coordinator for the Manhattanville College Center for Middle East Understanding.
Watt is professor of history at Temple University, where he is also an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Religion.
Both Sussex County experts offered their opinions on one of the fundamental questions in the case: Is the Lord's Prayer an exclusively Christian prayer?
Crossan contends the “prayer is essentially, characteristically and quintessentially Jewish.” He said the prayer is no more Christian than the official motto of the United States, In God We Trust.
Jones, who was raised Southern Baptist and converted to Islam in 1979, said nothing within the Lord's Prayer is offensive or objectionable to Muslims. “Nothing within the prayer conveys a Christian message to Muslim,” Jones said. “The prayer does not deny Muslims their beliefs, nor does it promote Christianity.”
Using testimony from its expert witness, Americans United contends the Lord's Prayer is not only the most recognizable Christian prayer, it is also a Protestant Christian prayer. Americans United says use of the prayer is exclusionary and promotes one religion.
Scott Shannon, attorney representing Sussex County, wrote in his comments to Stark: “Based on the declarations of Dr. Crossan and Dr. Jones that the prayer is of universal appeal, arises from Jewish origins and is inoffensive to adherents of the other monotheistic religions . . . there is, and can be, no reasoned dispute of fact that the prayer is a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held . . . and, therefore, offers no offense to the Constitution and may continue to be offered by Sussex County as a legislative invocation.”
Stark has posted a Monday, Feb. 6 deadline on Americans United for an answering brief and a Friday, Feb. 10 deadline on Sussex County for a responsive letter.
Re: Sussex County offers expert testimony in prayer case
Expert, break it down.
Ex: former: the unknown sum.
spurt: drip under pressure.
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