The U.S. Supreme Court has given local government officials across the United States more leeway to begin monthly town meetings with a prayer, ruling that prayers from a specific faith or tradition do not automatically violate the U.S. Constitution.
According to Reuters, the court said on a 5-4 vote that the town of Greece in New York state did not violate the Constitution's ban on government endorsement of religion by allowing Christian prayers before monthly meetings.
Politicians from both major political parties, including President Barack Obama, had backed the town, which was being sued by residents Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, who said that the Christian prayer before town meetings made them uncomfortable.
Before the ruling, the court had never before expressly said that prayers from a particular faith could be constitutional in some circumstances, or specifically held that prayers could be said before meetings of local government entities.
In a closely divided decision, the court said a prayer could violate the Constitution only if there was an attempt to intimidate, coerce or convert nonbelievers.
David Cortman, Senior Council with Alliance Defending Freedom, whose lawyers represented the town, said:
“The Supreme Court has again 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. Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced. Speech censors should have no power to silence volunteers who pray for their communities just as the Founders did.”