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Church State Issues

Supreme Court upholds legislative prayer at council meetings

May 5, 2014

Washington Post

Supreme Court - F*ck the 1st Amendment - American is a Christian nation???

By Robert Barnes, Monday, May 5, 7:58 AM E-mail the writer

A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that legislative bodies such as city councils can begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors the religion of the speaker.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that Christian prayers given before meetings of an update New York town council did not violate the constitutional prohibition against government establishment of religion.

“Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court’s conservative majority. [Translation - there are secret words in the US Constitution that says the Christian Bible is the Supreme Law of the land??? - I guess that's what Supreme Court Judge Anthony M. Kennedy thinks]

The case involved the New York town of Greece, where the council regularly opened its meeting with a prayer delivered by someone in the community. The prayers were overwhelmingly Christian, and a lower court said that violated the constitution.

The Supreme Court overturned that ruling. Kennedy said the analysis would be different if “town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the prayer opportunity. “No such thing occurred in the town of Greece.” Joining Kennedy in the opinion were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent for the court’s liberals, saying the town council did nothing to be inclusive of other religious beliefs.

“When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another,” she wrote. “And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines. . . . The Town of Greece betrayed that promise.”

She was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The case raised the question of how government can accommodate the nation’s religious traditions without endorsing beliefs not shared by all.

The court decided 30 years ago that legislatures may begin sessions with an invocation. [Which many of us think is a blatant violation of the First Amendment] But the new case asked whether there might need to be different rules for a local council meeting, where citizens often come to ask for favorable official action. The arguments also considered whether by opening its session almost always with prayers from one faith, a government essentially identifies itself with that specific religion.

A federal appeals court said the town had done just that with a decade of mostly Christian prayer. Every meeting from 1999 to 2007 opened with a Christian prayer, and even after two of the town’s residents filed a lawsuit, only a handful of non-Christian speakers have delivered the invocation.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit found that “the town’s prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint” because the town had not reached out to a more diverse group of prayer-givers or made clear that the prayers did not represent the town’s beliefs.

Thomas C. Hungar, the town’s attorney at the Supreme Court, argued that the “history of this country from its very foundations and founding recognizes the propriety of legislative prayer of the type that was conducted” in the town.

But Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia law professor representing the complaining residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, said that the appeals court was right in distinguishing the case from the court’s landmark 1983 decision in Marsh v. Chambers. That ruling said Nebraska had not violated the Constitution by employing a Presbyterian minister for 16 years to lead the legislature in prayer.

Laycock said Greece’s practice forced citizens who might not agree with the prayer to either participate against their will or irritate council members from whom they hoped to receive favorable action.

The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.