Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Friday, May 09, 2014

A Victory for Religious Freedom in Public Life

The Supreme Court offered some good news this week, as it affirmed the right of a small town in New York to hold prayer before its council meetings. The justices ruled 5-4 in Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway et al. that the town’s practice did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Since 1999, the Greece town council has begun its sessions with prayer delivered by local preachers; although open to anyone, Christians most frequently delivered the invocation, reflecting Greece’s religious makeup. According to two residents, however, the practice was “offensive” and so required remediation by the nation’s highest legal authorities.

Fortunately, a majority of the justices thought otherwise. Justice Kennedy’s opinion notes the long history of prayer in both Congress and state legislatures. As these practices and earlier court opinions demonstrate, expressing specific beliefs does not mean that the government is endorsing a particular religious establishment. Furthermore, the demands of the plaintiffs that any legislative prayers be reviewed to ensure a nonsectarian character would itself constitute an intrusion of the state into religious practice. The majority sensibly recognized the long tradition of Americans in public settings calling on God’s aid. The fact that four justices were willing to overturn this tradition, long upheld by law and practice, is disturbing, and an important reminder of how radical judges seek to remake America according to their own views. Nevertheless, in this instance the majority should be applauded for a wise ruling.
Read the court’s opinion here.

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