US Supreme Court okays prayer before public meetings

“The prayer in this case has a permissible ceremonial purpose. It is not an unconstitutional establishment of religion”

“The prayer in this case has a permissible ceremonial purpose. It is not an unconstitutional establishment of religion”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday in favor of allowing prayer before government meetings, saying that such instances don’t automatically violate the U.S. Constitution. 

The 5-4 decision centered on a case brought by two plaintiffs from the town of Greece, New York, one an atheist and the other Jewish, who argued that the town’s invocation of prayer, almost always Christian, at the opening of town meetings violated their constitutional rights. 

Not so, said the majority of judges who issued Monday’s verdict. 

“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 the authority of government to alter or define,” said Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion. “The prayer in this case has a permissible ceremonial purpose. It is not an unconstitutional establishment of religion.”

The decision clearly cut along ideological and religious lines with the five conservative judges ruling against the plaintiffs as the four liberal judges dissented. The five majority justices are all Roman Catholic, while of the four dissenting judges, three are Jewish and one is Catholic. 

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan said, “In offering those sectarian prayers, the Board’s chosen clergy members repeatedly call on individuals, prior to participating in local governance, to join in a form of worship that may be at odds with their own beliefs.”

The court maintained, however, that if the prayer’s purpose were to coerce or intimidate nonbelievers it could run afoul of the U.S. Constitution. Short of that, the court said that the prayer is constitutional.

The two plaintiffs in Monday’s decision had previously had their case upheld by a lower federal appeals court. That decision said that the town’s use of prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which states that the U.S. government should not make any law “respecting an establishment of religion.

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