Today’s Supreme Court ruling in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, upheld that the American tradition of public prayer before a legislative session does not violate the Constitution. It protects the freedom of community volunteers to pray according to their faith in a public setting, without censorship and it defends the prayer giver’s freedom of speech over an “offended” person’s demands for censorship. Common sense won!
The Supreme Court Monday ruled 5-4 that prayers given before meetings of an upstate New York town council did not violate the First Amendment even if they stressed Christianity. The decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, wrote by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is likely to have wide-reaching implications. It upholds the centuries-old tradition of offering prayers at open government meetings, even if the prayers are overwhelmingly Christian. For years activists have sought to require prayers that have no faith specific content, for example excluding and forbidding the mention of Jesus Christ.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the main opinion saying “Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government, to alter or define and that willing participation in civic affairs can be consistent with a brief acknowledgement of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs.”
Two residents of Greece, NY had complained that the invocations were too explicitly doctrinal and Christian, and made them feel coerced into participating in religious worship.
Kennedy said the town made reasonable efforts to reach out to other religious groups within its borders and communicated that it would welcome a prayer by any religious adherent who wished to deliver one.
“That nearly all the congregations in town turned out to be Christian does not reflect an aversion or bias on the part of town leaders against minority faiths,” Kennedy said.
He rejected suggestions that town officials be required to pursue a diversity of religious perspectives in their prayer invocations. That would engender a far more troublesome entanglement of government with religion than the town’s current prayer policy, he said.
The majority also rejected the suggestion that prayers offered before town meetings should be nonsectarian to avoid offending those of other faiths.
“To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech,” he said.
Kennedy said that “Absent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible government purpose, a challenge based solely on the content of a prayer will not likely establish a constitutional violation.”
He said in the Town of Greece, “in no instance did town leaders signal disfavor toward nonparticipants or suggest that their stature in the community was in any way diminished.”
Online: ABC News: Supreme Court Upholds Prayer at Town Meetings
The Christian Science Monitor: Supreme Court: Constitution allows for public prayer at town meetings
Albert Mohler-Constitutional Wisdom and Common Sense on Ceremonial Prayer — An Important Victory