The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today that public prayer before town hall meetings does not violate the First Amendment.
Explicit and nearly-uniform Christian prayers before government functions that mention “Jesus Christ on the cross” and ask spectators to stand for worship are permissible under the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court ruled today.
The case, called Greece v. Galloway, asked the court to decide whether a local government, the Town of Greece, N.Y., needed to restrict the content of the prayers before monthly town board meetings, or take special measures to ensure that a broad range of faiths were represented in prayer.
In another sharply divided 5-to-4 opinion, the court’s conservative justices, with the help of longtime swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, ruled that as long as the prayer preceded the start of official government business there was no need for additional precautions under the First Amendment.
“Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since the 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. As practiced by Congress since the framing of the Constitution, legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “The prayer in this case has a permissible ceremonial purpose. It is not an unconstitutional establishment of religion.”
Indeed, the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of God or Jesus Christ, but throughout American history, the government it established has not refrained from evoking those names before events.