Supreme Court Will Re-Examine Prayer at Government Meetings
Religion & Liberty Online

Supreme Court Will Re-Examine Prayer at Government Meetings

Even before America became a republic, Americans have opened public meetings with prayer. The Supreme Court even acknowledged this fact thirty years ago in the case of Marsh v. Chambers. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Burger said, “From colonial times through the founding of the Republic and ever since, the practice of legislative prayer has coexisted with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.”

But the “ever since” may soon be coming to an end.

After two residents Greece, New York sued the town over a public meeting prayer, a district court judge said the town council did not intentionally exclude members of any faith. But the three-judge panel for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously disagreed, saying “the town’s habit of inviting clergy from only churches in Greece could be construed as government endorsement of a particular religion. Houses of worship in Greece are almost exclusively Christian.”

In December, Alliance Defending Freedom asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court decision and on Monday the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case. As ADF notes, state attorneys general from 18 states in nearly every federal judicial circuit have united to ask the court to provide clear direction about the legality of allowing citizens to voluntarily deliver prayers consistent with the dictates of their own conscience. Additionally, forty-nine members of Congress and legislative leaders from two states filed their own briefs pointing out that the reasoning of the 2nd circuit jeopardizes the way deliberative bodies at every level of government have chosen to open their meetings for more than 225 years.

Hopefully, the court will uphold its own thirty-year precedent by recognizing that the prayer precedent—which was in place before the signing of the U.S. Constitution—does not violate the intention of the Founding Fathers.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).