Supreme Court Allows Prayer At City Meetings

The nation's highest court ruled in a 5-4 decision that Greece, New York's predominantly Christian prayers shouldn't be censored.

Supreme Court Allows Prayer At City Meetings
Democrat & Chronicle / Shawn Dowd

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that a small town in New York can continue to open its legislative meetings with predominantly Christian prayer.

‚Äč"The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that prayers before open town council meetings do not violate the constitution, even if they emphasize Christianity." (Via Time Warner Cable)

"They said as long as prayers don't cross a line into coercion or proselytizing or criticizing non-believers, then the government can't be in the business of censoring." (Via MSNBC)

The case stems from the town of Greece, New York, where the city's policy allows clergy of any faith to open meetings with a prayer, but in practice those prayers are almost always Christian.

"Two women, one who's Jewish and the other an atheist, said they were made to feel second-class when they didn't participate in the mostly-Christian prayers." (Via WHEC)

The issue, according to SCOTUSblog, is whether those prayers violate the establishment clause in the constitution by coercing citizens to participate in a sectarian prayer. The court ruled that they do not.

Greece's town supervisor says, in light of the ruling, the prayers will continue, and that the city does not discriminate.

"Every legislative body I have served in, and for 200 years we've opened the United States Congress with prayer. So this was just an affirmation of what had been going on for hundreds of years." (Via WHAM)

Issues surrounding separation of church and state are always contentious, so it's no surprise that the court's split ruling also split public opinion.

The ACLU said, "The Court's decision today allows the town to continue these official prayers despite the fact that they exclude local citizens of minority faiths and divide the community along religious lines."

And a writer for Christianity Today said the ruling would help create "an overly cozy relationship between government and willing local clergy," calling that relationship "the wedding of piety to patriotism."

But the majority saw the flip side as being much worse than the threat of an unofficial endorsement of religion.

In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy said asking the government to police the content of ceremonial prayers at local meetings would be a far worse violation of the establishment clause. An attorney representing the town told Fox News

"You can't have, under our constitution, a government-created prayer censor. That's what the other side would have."

The majority opinion also addressed the issue of why prayers at meetings are constitutional while school prayer is not, saying a person at a board meeting, unlike a student, is not being coerced because they are there voluntarily and can leave at any time.