The attorney for plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging prayer at public meetings say the case probably won't wind down until well into 1993.
"Realistically, we're probably looking at a year to a year and half before it's decided," said Brian Barnard, who represents the Society of Separationists in its suit against the Salt Lake City Council.The suit earlier this month triggered a 3rd District Court ruling that effectively bars the City Council from continuing its tradition of opening meetings with a public prayer. Because it is a precedent-setter, the case is being watched carefully by cities across Utah.
Though the council is appealing to the Supreme Court, Barnard said both sides are still presenting arguments to Judge J. Dennis Frederick over the wording of the order to stop public prayer at government meetings.
He said that particular spat should be settled by mid-April, after which the city has 30 days to file its appeal. Then, predicted Barnard, six months of case preparation will be required before briefs are filed to the high court. He said another six months likely will be exhausted preparing oral arguments, followed by several weeks of deliberation by the court.
In the meantime, Barnard has taken it upon himself to counter what he said are hysterical claims by the opposition.
"There are a lot of problems occurring now because of the misconception of what the lawsuit is about," said Barnard, who has appeared on radio and television shows to field questions from callers. As much as 70 percent of the feedback on such programs has been in favor of preserving public prayer as it is currently practiced, he said.
Chief among the misunderstandings, he said, is that the case could outlaw a "moment of silence" before public meetings. Barnard also said there are fears that the case could lead to a ban on the "Star Spangled Banner" or the Pledge of Allegiance at government-sponsored public gatherings.
"We've never contended that," he said.