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Legislative Prayer Backed in Ruling by US Supreme Court

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Liberty Counsel

Today in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the United States Supreme Court ruled that opening a town meeting in prayer does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in a 5-4 decision. Liberty Counsel filed an amicus brief in this case.

“Using the Marsh v. Chambers decision, the Supreme Court gave an unequivocal recognition that even sectarian prayers before a legislative session are constitutional. Finally, the Supreme Court went back to a test that acknowledges a practice that was accepted by the Founders who wrote the First Amendment,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel.

Liberty Counsel’s brief to the Court pointed out, “The Court’s continuing reliance upon the Lemon test has meant that the Establishment Clause, designed to respect religious traditions without taking sides, has morphed into a weapon aimed at eliminating all vestiges of public religious expression.”

The High Court agreed, ruling, “Any test the Court adopts must acknowledge a practice that was accepted by the Framers and has withstood the critical scrutiny of time and political change . . . Any test that would sweep away what has so long been settled would create new controversy and begin anew the very divisions along religious lines that the Establishment Clause seeks to prevent.”

“This opinion refutes all of the nonsense that the atheists groups have been spewing for years,” said Staver. “The majority opinion even points out the absurdity of trying to force a minister to pray to a neutral deity inoffensive to all present.”

“Any insistence on nonsectarian or ecumenical prayer as a single, fixed standard is not consistent with the tradition of legislative prayer outlined in the Court’s cases,” Kennedy wrote.  “Government may not mandate a civic religion that stifles any but the most generic reference to the sacred any more than it may prescribe a religious orthodoxy.” Kennedy added, “Respondents argue, in effect, that legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God. The law and the Court could not draw this line for each specific prayer or seek to require ministers to set aside their nuanced and deeply personal beliefs for vague and artificial ones.”

“The First Amendment is not a majority rule, and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech. Once it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates, unfettered by what and administrator or judge considers to be nonsectarian,” Kennedy wrote.

Justice Kennedy’s opinion concludes, “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.

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