The Supreme Court has decided that government meetings can include an opening prayer, ruling in favor of the town of Greece, New York.
The case was brought to the court by two residents, one Jewish and the other atheist, who said that prayers before the Greece town board were almost always Christian, which they saw as tantamount to a government endorsement of a single faith.
But on Monday the Supreme Court ruled that prayer before government meetings did not conflict with the Constitution. The town had the support of 23 states as well as the Obama administration, as well as others noting that the tradition of legislative prayer stretches back to the first session of Congress.
“For a few minutes each morning, politics and party are set aside,” wrote Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a leader in the charge to defend prayer before government meetings, in a brief advising the Supreme Court. “Instead of debate, senators reflect on their duty… mindful of the nation’s core values and their need for divine assistance in carrying out their responsibilities.”
This is not the first time the issue of government prayer came before the Supreme Court. In 1983, the court ruled that the Nebraska legislature was able to open its session with a prayer without violating the Constitution.
The Greece challenge claimed that the prayers before the public meeting were of a different nature. The residents claimed that members of the public wishing to attend the meeting or speak before the board were legally required to attend and drew attention if they declined to participate in the prayer.
The Supreme Court had considered two alternatives — that the town outlaw prayer altogether or supervise the prayers — but deemed them unacceptable.
Not all justices agreed. Elena Kagan dissented, claiming that the town of Greece went to far in its requirement of prayer.
“No one can fairly read the prayers from Greece’s town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian — constantly and exclusively so,” Kagan said. “The prayers betray no understanding that the American community is today, as it long has been, a rich mosaic of religious faiths.”
But the Supreme Court ruling on prayer before government meetings was hailed by religious advocates and supporters, who saw the ruling as affirming the nation’s long tradition of allowing such prayer.