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Supreme Court Approves Prayer at Legislative Sessions

In a 5-4 ruling today, the U. S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Town of Greece, New York, v. Galloway, et. al., ruling that the Town's practice of opening its monthly town board meetings with a... 

prayer did not violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, pointing out that the practice of opening a legislative session with a prayer is a tradition that dates back to Colonial times. He pointed out that "historical practice shows that prayer [at legislative sessions] has become part of the Nation's heritage and tradition."The Court's prior opinion on this issue was Marsh V. Chambers (1983), which held that the Nebraska legislature's practice of opening each session with a chaplain's prayer did not offend the Constitution. In that case, however, the Court noted that the prayers opening the day in Nebraska's legislature were non-denominational, and not restricted to a particular religion or belief. Today's opinion in the Town of Greece case, however, did not make such a distinction. The Town board invited local pastors - almost exclusively Christian - to say the prayers. However, because the board did not force anybody to listen or to join in the prayer, and anybody who want to could leave the room without penalty, the practice was allowable. Justice Kennedy stated that the prayers did not have to be non-sectarian. He reasoned that if only non-sectarian prayers were to be allowed, that would force the governing body to review all invocations in advance to determine whether they would be appropriate. That would require government involvement in religious matters "to a far greater degree than is the case under the town's current practice of neither editing nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact." 

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