BREAKING: Supreme Court Says It’s OK to Pray!

In a narrow 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled that it’s OK to open government meetings with prayer–even if the prayers are overwhelmingly Christian, and even if citizens are encouraged to participate.

The case of Town of Greece vs. Galloway has been wending its way through the courts since 2007, when residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens took the board of the small town near Rochester, New York to federal court, contending that its practice of offering prayers by a “chaplain of the month” which made reference to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit aligned the town with one religion.  They won their case; and the town added prayers by a Jewish layman, a Wiccan priestess, and a member of the Baha’i faith.  

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, called the prayers “merely ceremonial” and said that they were not unduly sectarian and were not likely to make members of other faiths feel unwelcome.  Justice Kennedy wrote:

“Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.”

Justice Elena Kagan, writing the minority opinion, said in her dissent that the town’s practices could not be reconciled  

“…with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government.”

Galloway and Stephens, a Jew and an atheist, had claimed that the prayers were in violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion. They said the prayers offended them and, according to Justice Kennedy, “made them feel excluded and disrespected.”

But, according to the New York Times,

Justice Kennedy said the relevant constitutional question was not whether they were offended. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” he wrote.

Justice Kennedy said traditions starting with the first Congress supported the constitutionality of ceremonial prayers at the start of legislative sessions. He added that it would be perilous for courts to decide when those prayers crossed a constitutional line and became impermissibly sectarian.

“To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian,” he wrote, “would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing or approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact.”

The Obama Administration had strongly supported the town of Greece in the case, agreeing that the public prayers were not in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.  (The Framers of the Constitution began their meetings with prayer; and there is a long historical precedent:  Both Houses of Congress have opened with prayer since 1789.)   Justice Kennedy wrote:

“As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable court’ at the opening of this court’s sessions.”

The case is likely to have repercussions in other volatile disputes regarding public prayer:  in schools, around the flagpole, and at public events.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • JohnE_o

    Y’all won’t mind if I just sit and play “Angry Birds” on my phone while that prayer is going on, right?

    I’ll even mute the volume.

    • Janet Baker

      Go right ahead. It’s your right – just as it is our right to do so and to acknowledge the religious heritage of the United States of America.

      • JohnE_o

        Well, that’s nice and all that, but what exactly does America’s religious heritage have to do with the county Water Board meeting?

        • John Flaherty

          We might ask the same question of the atheists and secularists who felt compelled to file suit in the first place.
          Constitution forbid that anyone should dare seek guidance from a higher power regarding the best means to distribute water!

          • ahermit

            Go ahead and ask. You don’t need to hijack a public taxpayer supported platform to do so, do you?

          • John Flaherty

            Hijacking implies that something has been taken from someone for wrongful reasons. That being the case, I’d argue that secularists hijacked the public square a long time ago. Few people ever had particular problems with people praying until secular efforts over-ruled the majority, saying that THEY, the secularists, were offended that anyone would dare invoke a power higher than a human being.

            Because Catholics and other religious persons have as much right to free speech and religious expression as anyone else, I’d argue that you’ve got lots of tough explaining to do regarding your authority to violate others’ First Amendment rights.

          • ahermit

            You’re misrepresenting the secularist objection here. The problem is that ONLY Christian prayers are being offered and others are being excluded. The State should not be favouring one religious belief and excluding others.

            Your First Amendment rights aren’t being taken away of others are allowed to exercise their religious beliefs, or if (and I think this is preferable) the State just stays out of it and doesn’t exercise religion at all. A meeting of a secular public government body which is supposed to represent all citizens is not a platform for presenting your particular religious beliefs.

            If you or anyone else wants to pray at a public meeting or anywhere else at any time go ahead and pray; no one is trying to take that right away from you. But don’t expect taxpayer funded representatives of the State to push your religion for you.

            And this decision has the effect of taking that right you’re claiming away from others who have different beliefs if Jews, Muslims and others can be prevented form offering their prayers/invocations etc. as part of the official program of public meetings. .So whose First Amendment rights are being violated here? Not yours…

          • I am a Christian and I object to public prayer. Jesus told us not to do that.

            I am sick to death of this religious pandering. I am close to NOT VOTING for any public official who mentions God at all. At this moment, it is not practical. Hopefully the atheist congregations will grow larger and atheists more populous and not voting for a God-mentioner will be feasible.

            Further, I am a Hicksite Friend. Nobody leads me in public prayer. What are they going to do if I stand up and pray outloud back at them? “Oh dear merciful God, shut this paskudnyack up. Make his tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth and his gorge rise. Thank you. Ramen.”

            Maybe they will arrest me? Not like that has not happened to Quakes before. Be worth it.

    • kathyschiffer

      John, that is EXACTLY the right response. If you want to pray, pray. If you don’t want to pray, don’t pray.

      • JohnE_o

        Cheers, Kathy – you’re a good egg…

        • No she is not a good egg. She is a vicious religious authoritarian disguised as a cute middle aged lady.

    • lady_black

      I wouldn’t even bother muting it.

  • ahermit

    Interesting that most of the Catholics on the court support this enforced religious observance and all of the Jews on the court recognize it as a Constitutional violation…wonder what they see that the Catholics are missing…?

    It’s easy to say this is no big deal when you’re part of the majority. Not so much when you’re the minority having your minority status reinforced by an official act.

    • John Flaherty

      “…wonder what they see that the Catholics are missing…?”

      I think a few of the Catholics on the Court have begun to realize that no minority interest will ever be happy about being a minority opinion and having to allow the majority to rule. I think it long since past time that we quit kowtowing to secular, atheistic, and other influences who insist on playing the victim. If you think you’re being persecuted by having to listen to a prayer, I think you’d best remain in the United States. If you’ve watched the news these past few years,you may have noticed that many in other countries won’t worry about your conniptions with someone’s prayer

      They’ll simply shoot you, then curse you as you die.

      • ahermit

        I suggest you read de Tocqueville on “the tyrrany of the majority.” Then ask yourself what message is sent to non-Christian members of a community when their elected leaders say things like this:

        “The freedom of religion doesn’t mean that every religion has to be heard”…

        ….The supervisor campaigned on the idea of eliminating the policy, and the ruling has breathed new life into his idea for a policy that could lead to the exclusion of non-Christian groups from the invocation.

        When asked if he would allow representatives from non-Christian faiths and non-faiths, including Jews, Muslims, atheists and others, the Hollins District supervisor said he likely would not.

        It seems to me that ‘non-Christian” starts to be synonymous with “second class citizen” at that point.

        • John Flaherty

          If you decide to refer to yourself as a second-class citizen, you’re welcome to do so. Bear in mind, we’ve been hearing messages for decades that we’re “second class citizen” if we don’t honor the secular public square.

          If you’re worried about a tyranny of the majority, I’d comment that such is far preferable to the tyranny that many have inflicted in efforts to forbid Christian ideals.

          Don’t expect people to jump when you insist on playing victim of life.

          • ahermit

            What Christian ideals are being forbidden, and by whom?

          • John Flaherty

            Christian ideal: We ought to pray and do so in public.

            Who’s forbidding it: Anyone who wishes to impose secularism upon the nation.

          • ahermit

            Is public prayer really a Christian ideal? Read Matthew 6:6…

            In any case, no one is forbidding prayer or asking that prayer be forbidden. Some of us are asking that the State not endorse a particular kind of prayer to the exclusion of other forms of observance.
            If you read the article I linked to it’s about a Christian in a position of power using that position to dictate what kind of prayers can be said. And it’s not Christian prayers that are being forbidden.

            Are you saying its OK to forbid Jewish or Muslim prayers or Humanist or Buddhist invocations?

            Why should your religion be privileged over all others in the public square?

          • John Flaherty

            On the contrary, while it’s possible that in this precise instance, public prayer has not been forbidden, such an intent always always follows, unless of course someone’s playing games about demonstrating how well they follow the Constitution.

            As for why my religion ought to be privileged above others, I’d highlight that most efforts have aimed at banning prayer because some “victim” insists that they find prayer “offensive”.
            If you’re merely using the law to bully people into silence, I think it’s time we let you grouch somewhere else.

          • ahermit

            Yes, public prayer, or more precisely officially sanctioned public prayer… will be forbidden; but only non-Christian public prayer.

            And you’re OK with that? As long as its other people’s religion that’s being excluded?

          • lady_black

            Your religion ought NOT to be privileged above others. That was the entire point. Your faith tradition (Catholicism) is but one of many, and not even the majority. Not that majority matters. It doesn’t. These types of decisions always devolve into what religion and what particular sect of religion will be presented. In Europe, wars have been fought over religious squabbles. The inevitable result being that people become fed up with all religion, and religion ends up the loser. The founding fathers knew this. They were protecting both government and faith from bastardizing each other. Because that is the inevitable result.

          • Well said.

          • lady_black

            Ah. You do not know your Bible and what Jesus had to say about praying in public. Why am I not surprised?

          • lady_black

            Jesus said when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. For they are already having their reward (having been seen praying by others, and being thought to be pious.) Go into your room and close the door and pray to your heavenly Father in secret, because he already knows what you need before you ask it. Take the hint. Jesus is one of my very favorite philosophers.

          • John Flaherty

            I’m saddened by your apparent violent distortion of Christ’s message. If you wish to bury your faith in the public square, do,so, but don’t be surprised when others like myself dare to reject secular bullying.

          • lady_black

            I believe the message is abundantly clear. Are you married? I certainly hope not. Your consistent M.O. when dealing with women is when you are confronted with facts or scripture that fly in the face of what you believe to be true (but is not), you resort to the tactics of insisting that she’s too stupid to understand what it “really means” (even on the subject of what it means to be a member of her own gender.) Oh, and her stupidity always disappoints you. In case you aren’t aware, that is a bullying tactic. I will not simply let bullying slide. I do not support government-linked Christian (and ONLY Christian) praying, because even according to the religion you claim to follow that’s an abomination and because it’s offensive. Not just to myself, but to other Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and anyone else you happen to be “othering.” Worse yet, you think it’s ok so long as you aren’t the one on the outside looking in. Somehow, I don’t think you would have the same attitude if you were the one in the minority. Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

          • John Flaherty

            I hadn’t intended to respond, but some of this requires an answer, if only to warn you against…yourself. Probably won’t help much, but I think I’d best say it anyway.

            No, I’m not married, thank God. I’m quite single, precisely because of the variety of feminist bigotry that you seem to me to foment. I want no part.

            You won’t let bullying slide? From where I sit, you and many of your sisters have been inflicting the bullying for most of 50 years. If anyone should disagree with your view even a little, such a person can expect to be blasted for their dissent. Most pro-choice or similarly minded people seem to demand exorbitant “tolerance”, but exercise exceedingly little.

            If you think prayer ought to be removed from public life, I’d counter that most Christians I’ve ever met have bothered to pray mostly for guidance and wisdom. Most who object have done so primarily as a means of publicly smearing someone else’s faith tradition and attempting to legally bully others into a secular or multicultural idea that nobody actually believes in.

            If you think prayer in public is offensive, I’d warn you that many of us have begun to ignore what happens in the public sphere. People like yourself have long since made clear that we aren’t welcome.

            I’d be very happy if I got what I wanted. It’d be great to see people routinely praising God and singing Hallelujah in the streets for the sheer joy of it.
            I doubt we’ll see such a thing anytime soon.

            Too many bitter, angry souls around who can’t stand to listen.
            Very sad.

          • lady_black

            Oh that’s just precious. You are neither married, nor a father and yet think yourself fit to teach a woman what it means to be a wife and mother. Good to know. I’ll give your vast experience in these areas the respect they deserve, which is to say, none at all. I have no desire to see prayer removed from the public square, but I do have a great deal of discomfort at government endorsement of a specific religion. I’d have no problem with (for example) a brief period of silence where people can indulge themselves in whatever centering activity works best for them, be it prayer, meditation or (as another poster suggested) playing Angry Birds on his cell phone. That way nobody is excluded, and there’s something for everyone. Don’t you agree?

      • lady_black

        The majority do not rule. Your understanding of the Constitution is dwarfed only by your understanding of women. We have a system that doesn’t allow the government to endorse religion. Not yours and not theirs. You are free to worship as you wish, but the rest of us are free to worship as we wish, or not at all. If I wanted to hear others pray, I would go to church. If I wanted to pray myself, I would go into my room and close the door like Jesus said. If I want to be included in the voice of government, I want to listen to government business and not prayers. This is a nation of many religions and creeds and I respect them all. That being said, if you don’t want town meetings to devolve into tent revivals with everyone blathering about his or her particular faith, it’s just simpler to keep praying where it belongs.

        • John Flaherty

          Prayer belongs everywhere, lady black, not only in those places where you can leave your faith aside when you walk through the door.
          Your statements reflect not so much a genuine respect for all religions, but more a passionate loathing, a will to only honor those aspects of any particular faith that you, yourself, consider acceptable.
          You have essentially become your own pope and have the intent to impose your will on others;

  • I wonder what they are going to do in the next public meeting when I pray outloud back at them? I am a Quake. Nobody “leads me in prayer.”

    • Donalbain

      Or when a Satanist demands to be allowed to lead the prayers, or even more shocking, when a Muslim does!

      • It is going to be a hoot. Must pop some popcorn.