Supreme Court: public prayer isn’t unconstitutional, even if it is mostly Christian

By End the Lie

(Image credit: Li Tsin Soon/Flickr)

(Image credit: Li Tsin Soon/Flickr)

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.

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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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25 Responses to Supreme Court: public prayer isn’t unconstitutional, even if it is mostly Christian

  1. Jay Kenney May 5, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    No religion has any place in a government ceremony. And a school board is made up of elected; i.e., government officials.

    Reply
    • jazz ute June 1, 2014 at 9:53 PM

      Thomas jefferson used to hold church sevices in the capitol.the u.s.a was founded on God..if anything with the current dill weed in office there should be more

      Reply
      • Jay Kenney June 4, 2014 at 6:37 AM

        No. The Republic was founded on freedom of religion. Check the 1st amendment.

        Reply
    • Eric Pepper August 8, 2014 at 6:15 PM

      Anyone who wants to pray should have that right preserved. Even in government. Anyone who says that they should not have that right then your right to protest such action or any other you might have down the road should also be banned. So before you side with something think about the complete consequence of passing any law prohibiting any rights under the constitution. You don’t like to hear it walk away don’t participate. Stop acting as though the world owes you something. or that your opinion or that of others is superior.

      Reply
      • Lance February 28, 2015 at 3:51 AM

        Funny, your comment is very similar to what the Sadducees and Pharisees, the Jews and the Romans, thought and said to Jesus, The Christ! When you pray do you pray to his “Father”, or to the “father” of carnal man?

        Reply
  2. name? May 5, 2014 at 11:32 PM

    If they banned this, then they wouldn’t be able to allow Islamic indoctrination, I mean prayers, when the time is right.

    Reply
    • Jay Kenney May 6, 2014 at 4:40 PM

      That’s insulting! School board members and town/city officials are elected; i.e., government officials. And if some of those officials don’t happen to be Christian, their beliefs are to be ignored? Rings of government sponsored religion. I think the Constitution has something to say about that.

      Reply
      • Lance February 28, 2015 at 4:01 AM

        The “government” in America does sponsor a religion! Its man’s religion. Its not based upon the “doctrine of Christ”, which says, in part, there is no other way that a MAN can be saved, i.e., through other religions, faiths, beliefs, etc.. Your point of view is distinctly “antichrist”.

        Reply
    • Jay Kenney May 6, 2014 at 4:42 PM

      BTW. You make an offensive comment, and hide behind anonymity?

      Reply
  3. Nys Parkie May 6, 2014 at 7:31 AM

    SO? They are mandating that everyone stand and pray. Much to do about diddly squat.

    Reply
    • Nys Parkie May 6, 2014 at 7:33 AM

      They are NOT mandating that everyone stand and pray. Sorry about the left out word that makes the sentence.

      Reply
    • Jay Kenney May 6, 2014 at 4:45 PM

      So, the Constitution is, “…diddly squat.”?

      Reply
      • Lance February 28, 2015 at 4:25 AM

        The “constitution” was created by Freemasons. Out of all the signatories to the constitution, only 6 were non-Freemason’s. In many books these men proclaim what “god” they worship and serve, and its not GOD, the Father of Jesus, The Christ! In the ceremonies performed in their lodges and halls initiates had to spit and stomp on a representation of a cross with Christ on it in order to be accepted! The Freemasons, especially the Knights Templars, were forced to deny Christ, and THEY DO, just as YOU DO!

        Reply
  4. Fieldmarshal Montgomery September 5, 2014 at 2:02 AM

    Just a note from an outsider and big fan of the USA, I hate to see the problems that America faces but it seems that the more the US turns from its founding faith the worse things get. Surely the people should be seeking devine help during these troubled times?

    Reply
    • Jay Kenney September 5, 2014 at 4:22 PM

      Spot on. “We the people,” gave away our, “Government of the people, by the people and for the people, ” to PAC’S and the highest bidders. Now it is OUR responsibility to take it back!

      Reply
  5. Aron October 12, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    Now this means that some other schools and governments are just going to start their mornings with Muslim prayer and ceremony. What’s to stop that? Not that there is anything wrong with Muslims; but most people supporting prayer in school/government are Christian and would be appalled at the idea of government led Muslim prayer…

    Reply
    • Jay Kenney October 12, 2014 at 5:06 PM

      Aron, read the First Amendment. Public schools and their representives, who promote “Christian” prayer are in violation of the First Amendment. “GOD” does not appear in the Constitution. Do a word search. Furthermore, the Declaration of Independence ONLY mentions, “Creator.” Where do you people get this erroneous idea that this country was founded on Christianity? IT WAS FOUNDED ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION.! That’s why the Pilgrims left England and the rest of Europe! Did you cut too many History classes?

      Reply
      • bulldogbuck October 22, 2014 at 7:14 PM

        “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

        I believe it is obvious that most people twist most of the concepts presented in the Constitution and in the ratified amendments started by Madison. The most apparent example is the notion that we are a democracy, when we are clearly and definitively a republic. We utilize a democratic process, but the term democracy has been so misused as to be redefined. Democracy is the method by which a republic is governed.

        As for the first amendment (or third article), the words are clear, CONGRESS cannot MAKE LAW establishing or pertaining to religion. Nor can it prohibit the free practice thereof. This means that the ruling upheld by the court in favor of a sniveling Lutheran (ironically a sect of Christianity) parent is a blatant misinterpretation of a very simple ‘word of law’. And that this ruling is merely following the first amendment’s directive. That four judges dissent only shows how far we’ve slid. The notion that there is no influence of religion on government or there is “separation of church from state” protected by the first amendment is a falsehood. The first amendment was meant to protect a populace and their respective religion(s) from government (separation of state from church).

        Of course, our founders had no idea that a federal government would be deciding local policy, or they might have disband the federation in about 1820.

        This country was founded on Tobacco and Cotton and Sugar.

        Reply
        • Jay Kenney October 23, 2014 at 5:31 AM

          And founded on slavery. Read the New York Constitution. It allows for, “Freedom of religion and worship.” Opening of a government meeting with ONLY a “Christian” prayer, clearly excludes the rights of any other non-Christian members of that group.

          And, yes. As a US history major, I am well aware that we are a democratic republic.

          Reply
          • C November 22, 2014 at 3:37 PM

            If they are Christian let pray Christian prayers. If there is a Muslim present let them pray their prayers. It’s not going to be a perfect system. It’s best to let people speak their own personal opinions.

  6. Agent Cozmo January 19, 2015 at 5:28 AM

    Keep in mind the majority of the war makers, and those carrying out the Holocaust where christian. Those making mass graves in the Balkans were christians. Those that claim to guide their flock while they molest children are christian priests. Those that genocide the Palestinians are jews and christians. Those that claim honor killing of their children are muslim. Those that kill to revenge irony are muslim. Religion is a sickness, and when you can truly believe in absurdities, you are quite capable to commit atrocities. The USA is a religious nutter state.

    Reply
    • Lance February 28, 2015 at 4:55 AM

      Long before Christ was on this earth, those who opposed the authority of the “Almighty” suffered the consequences of their “rebellion”. Nothings changed. Those who rebel against the Authority of the Most High God, those who have sinned against him, have suffered, and will suffer, the consequences of their “rebellion” whoever they are. The Almighty does no differentiate. The Jews of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, after King Solomon died, took up the religious customs of the secular pagan nations of Rome and Greece, which were handed down from Babel, Babylon. They adopted their pagan rituals and infused them with their religious traditions which are still practiced today. Their traditions are false. The God of Judgment calls the shots, not you, not me, nor any MAN!

      Reply
  7. Lance February 25, 2015 at 3:19 PM

    America was not, in any way, founded upon the Christian religion, and George Washington, a Freemason, is even quoted saying this! It was founded by secularists, liberals, libertarians, deists, humanists, and humanitarians. They all practiced the “Religion of Humanity”, or the “Religion of Man”, and this religion is still being practiced today. Its a form of religion in which the material benefactors of mankind, the capitalists of the world, the creators of all the products, innovations, and solutions, those who work for the welfare of the human race, those who work solely for the “interests” of mankind, those who work to attain human perfection through their own scientific and technological efforts, those practice broad benevolence and philanthropy, that make the capitalist way of life possible, are held up as the saviors of humanity, NOT JESUS CHRIST!

    Reply
    • Jay Kenney February 25, 2015 at 3:47 PM

      AMEN!

      Reply
      • Lance February 28, 2015 at 3:44 AM

        You think this is a good thing then? Are you opposed to the “doctrine of Christ”?

        Reply

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