Main | Monday, May 05, 2014

SCOTUS Upholds Public Prayers

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court today upheld the right of public prayers before government meetings.
The court ruled in favor of the town of Greece, N.Y., a Rochester suburb that has opened its monthly public meetings with a Christian prayer since 1999. Two residents, one Jewish and the other atheist, claimed that because the prayers were almost always Christian, the practice amounted to government endorsement of a single faith.  The Supreme Court last considered the issue of government prayer in 1983, ruling that the Nebraska legislature did not violate the Constitution by opening its sessions with a prayer from a Presbyterian minister.  But the challengers in the New York case argued that the meetings of the Greece town board were different, because members of the public who sought action from the board were legally required to attend and were not simply part of a passive audience — drawing attention to themselves if they declined to participate in a prayer that was contrary to their beliefs.
More about the case:
The current court, with its 5-4 conservative tilt, agreed to consider the case following a federal appeals court's ruling against the town. Judge Guido Calabresi of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said its actions "virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint" and featured a "steady drumbeat of often specifically sectarian Christian prayers." The Obama administration came down forcefully on the town's side — most notably because both houses of Congress have opened with prayers since 1789. The case hinged on these words from the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That has come to be known as the Establishment Clause. The House and Senate have had chaplains on staff since 1789. But the prayers delivered these days by Senate Chaplain Barry Black and House Chaplain Patrick Conroy are far less sectarian than those heard in churches, temples and synagogues.
Stand by for Christianist cartwheels.

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