In a 5-4 decision, the Conservative majority of Supreme Court Justices said Christian prayers opening public or town hall meetings were constitutional as long as they did not coerce non-Christians or belittle them.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation’s traditions.
“The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers,” Kennedy said.
He added, “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.”
The decision stemmed from a court battle in which the town of Greece in New Jersey, right outside of Rochester, was challenged by two residents who complained that other faiths were not represented as much as the Christian faith.
This eventually led to four of the 12 Greece, NJ town hall meetings beginning with non-Christian prayers for the sake of “inclusion.” These included a Jewish prayer, a Wiccan prayer and a prayer by the chairman of the local Baha’i congregation.
The Liberal minority judges, wrote that the decision favored one faith to another.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court’s four liberal justices, said, “I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality — the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian.”
And the skewed reporting by the Associated Press noted that the five conservative justices, who voted to not silence prayer in public, are all Catholic, attempting to allude to the point that this influenced their decision. Of the four liberal judges, three are Jewish and one is Catholic.