Supreme Court upholds freedom to pray at public meetings

United States Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court on May 5 upheld the practice of voluntary prayer before public meetings by a 5-4 ruling, drawing praise from those who said such prayers are a long American tradition that avoids censoring religion.

“Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel David Cortman said May 5. “Speech censors should have no power to silence volunteers who pray for their communities just as the Founders did.”

Cortman said the Supreme Court “affirmed that Americans are free to pray.”

“In America, we tolerate a diversity of opinions and beliefs; we don’t silence people or try to separate what they say from what they believe,” he said.

The lawsuit, filed in 2007, was brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens. The plaintiffs claimed that the Rochester-area town of Greece, N.Y., violated the constitution in its practice of opening town meetings with prayer.

The majority of prayers offered before the small town's local legislative sessions have been delivered by Christian ministers, although the invocation is open to representatives of any belief who wish to offer prayer, and other groups including Wiccans have also done so in recent years.

Monday’s Supreme Court decision in “Town of Greece v. Galloway” overturned a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had sided with the plaintiffs.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, said that the First Amendment “is not a majority rule, and the government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech.”

He said that legislative prayer is “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the nation’s heritage.”

“Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing, serves that legitimate function,” he said.

Kennedy suggested that invocations that “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion” would present a “different case.”

He said the town made “reasonable efforts” to identify all of its religious congregations and invite any minister or layman who wished to deliver an invocation. He said the prayer was not coercive.

Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the dissent, objected that the prayers were “explicitly” and “constantly and exclusively” Christian. She objected to the content of the prayers, saying chaplains appeared to assume that all meeting attendees were Christian. She also questioned chaplains’ apparent lack of effort to be “inclusive” in their prayers and to assure members of the public that they do not have to participate in the prayers.

Kagan said the prayers could have a negative effect on people with business at public meetings who disagree with the beliefs expressed.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing a concurring opinion with the majority, said that there is a “long history” against the argument that only non-sectarian prayer is permissible in such cases.

He said stricter guidelines on prayers could result in local governments screening and editing prayers before they are delivered or rebuking or excluding a chaplain for the prayers he or she delivered.

Thomas G. Hungar, an attorney allied with the Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said the decision “reaffirmed that the practice of prayer before legislative bodies is firmly embedded in the history and traditions of this nation.”

He said the court “simply reinforced what has been true about America since its founding: Americans should be free to speak and act consistently with their own beliefs.”


Voices

Iowa and us in a Year of Mercy

Kathryn Jean Lopez

It was in the general-purpose room of St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Des Moines that Donald Trump made his last pitch to Iowa voters, inside a caucus room. He wanted to make sure people remembered that not only will he build the wall on our border with Mexico, but that he’s the only candidate who will make Mexico pay for it.

Events

February 2016
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29

February 6, 2016

  • Saturday, February, 6

    Second Annual Sisters of Notre Dame Nun Run 5K & 1-Mile Fun Run, 8 a.m., Hosted by the Sisters of Notre Dame and La Reina High School and Middle School in Thousand Oaks. Course starts on Dover Avenue in Thousand Oaks and finishes in front of La Reina School. Open to runners and walkers of all ages and ability levels. Professional chip timing technology will be provided to 5K runners by Vendurance Sports. Participants will receive a free T-shirt (while supplies last); pancake breakfast available after the race. Pre-registration is $35 per person for the 5K, and $25 for the 1-Mile. All proceeds support the Sisters of Notre Dame Life and Ministry Fund, allowing the sisters to continue their ministries in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. For more information, contact Chloe Vieira at cvieira@sndca.org, or visit sndca.org/nunrun. 

    Math Competition for Middle School Students & Problem-Solving Workshop for Teachers, 7:45 a.m., Don Bosco Technical Institute, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead.A mathematics competition for fifth through eighth grade students. The 44th annual event will offer awards for the highest scoring individual and teams. Participants must register by Feb. 2 atwww.boscotech.edu/events. Space is limited. The cost is $8 per individual and $5 per person for teams of four or more, up to 15. Check-in begins at 7:45 a.m.; one-hour test starts at 9 a.m. Free activities offered and food available for purchase. Award ceremony follows the competition at 11 a.m. For more information, contact Valeria De Luna at MathCompetition@boscotech.edu.

     

    San Fernando Regional Day of Prayer for the RCIA, 1 - 4:30 p.m., St. John Baptist De La Salle Church, 16555 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills. An afternoon of prayer for those who will celebrate the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion this Lent. Catechumens, candidates, sponsors and team members will come together in prayer with Bishop Joseph V. Brennan. To register or for more information, contact Sandy Cole at (818) 368-1514 or dre@sjbdls.org.

     

    Second Annual Valentine's Dinner/Dance, 7 p.m., St. James School - O'Gorman Center, 4625 Garnet St., Torrance.Dance music from the 50's to the present; $20 per person. Proceeds will benefit our seminarians. For more information, call the parish office at (310) 372-5228, or Ely at (310) 944-3355.  

     

    Snowflake Swing Dinner/Dance, 6 p.m. to midnight,St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1523 Golden Gate Ave., Los Angeles. Great food, door prizes and dancing (assorted music), featuring the LA Trio. Tickets $25; RSVP by Feb. 2. For reservations, call Liza at (323) 664-1305 or Renee at (213) 413-3036. 

Get our news by email

Bob Smith BMW 300x250
Bob Smith Toyota 300x250
Bob Smith Mini 300x250