The United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote this week that prayer before government meetings does not automatically violate the U.S. Constitution. According to Reuters, the case involved the town of Greece, New York and their regular practice of allowing Christian prayers before their monthly city meetings. However, the decision did say a prayer could violate the ban on government endorsement of religion if it attempted to “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation or preach conversion.”
Although the policy of prayer before government meetings in Greece, a town of 100,000 people, does not embrace a particular religion, all members of the public who gave a prayer were Christians until two residents filed suit in 2008. Some of the prayers featured explicitly Christian references, including mentions of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Erwin Chemerinsky, a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, who filed a brief opposing the Greece prayers, said the ruling “certainly reflects five justices who want to allow much more of a religious presence in government and government support for religion.”
Greece’s town supervisor Bill Reilich commented that some residents would be disappointed by the court’s decision. “We are not forcing it on anyone,” he said. “If they feel uncomfortable joining the prayer, they can have a moment of reflection instead.”