In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has said that prayers at town council meetings do not violate the Constitution - even if they basically favor Christianity.
The Hamilton County Commission opens its meetings with prayer, and it was sued by two local citizens. That case is before Judge Sandy Mattice in Federal Court.
The case involved prayers at town council meetings at Greece, N.Y., which is near Rochester.
The majority opinion says, "The prayer opportunity is evaluated against the backdrop of a historical practice showing that prayer has become part of the Nation's heritage and tradition. It is presumed that the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understands that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens."
The decision overturned a ruling by a federal appeals court in New York that said the prayers at the Greece meetings almost always favor Christianity and violate the Constitution.
The majority said the prayers are intended for "the lawmakers" and "not the public."
The last major public prayer ruling by the high court was in 1983, when the court upheld an opening prayer in the Nebraska legislature. It said that prayer is not a violation of the First Amendment, but is part of the nation's fabric.
Click here to read the opinion.
Senator Lamar Alexander said, "Today’s decision upholds the First Amendment of the Constitution and the idea that our founders never intended for religious expression to be pushed from public life. In fact, the first senate paid the first senate chaplain, and the senate still opens every day with prayer. The First Amendment protects religious freedom, whether it be in the U.S. Senate or a town board.”
Last August, Alexander joined an amicus brief with a bipartisan group of senators, in support of legislative prayer. In today’s ruling in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that local governments may open their meetings with prayers, even prayers that refer to specific religious beliefs and traditions.