Supreme Court: public prayer isn’t unconstitutional, even if it is mostly Christian
By End the Lie
The Supreme Court handed down what may be a landmark ruling in a contentious case over public prayer at the board meetings of a New York town, ruling that the prayers do not violate the Constitution even though they routinely stress Christianity.
We first reported on the case in November of last year, pointing out that the White House took the side of the town of Greece, New York, against Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens.
On Monday the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Greece, citing the United States’ history of religious acknowledgment in the legislature, according to CNN.
“The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, adding that it “does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”
It is worth noting that the Supreme Court began their session with the traditional statement that ends with, “God save the United States and this honorable court.”
The Court ruled that the content of public prayers, including Christian ones, is not significant, so long as the prayers do not proselytize or denigrate non-Christians.
Monday’s ruling was in line with a 1983 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the opening prayer in Nebraska’s legislature. That ruling stated that prayer is part of the fabric of the United States and is not a violation of the First Amendment.
“The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers,” Kennedy said, writing for the majority.
The Supreme Court’s four liberal justices argued that the prayers were a violation of religious equality.
“I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality — the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian,” Justice Elena Kagan said, writing for the four dissenting justices.
Kagan argued that the case of Greece differs significantly from the 1983 case because “Greece’s town meetings involve participation by ordinary citizens, and the invocations given — directly to those citizens — were predominantly sectarian in content.”
Previously, a federal appeals court in New York ruled that the town violated the Constitution by opening almost every meeting over 11 years with prayers that stressed Christianity, according to the Associated Press.
After Galloway and Stephens complained in 2008, four out of 12 meetings were opened by non-Christians. Previously, there were spans from 1999 to 2007 and January 2009 through June 2010 when every meeting was opened with a Christian-oriented invocation, according to AP.
While the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said that the consistently Christian prayer amounted to Greece endorsing Christianity, Kennedy argued that judges shouldn’t evaluate the content of prayer.
If judges are involved in evaluating the content of prayer, it could lead to legislatures requiring “chaplains to redact the religious content from their message in order to make it acceptable for the public sphere,” according to Kennedy.
“Government may not mandate a civic religion that stifles any but the most generic reference to the sacred any more than it may prescribe a religious orthodoxy,” Kennedy said.
Keep in mind, Kennedy authored a 1992 opinion that stated that a high school graduation’s Christian prayer did violate the Constitution.
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