Monday morning the Supreme Court finally came out with a ruling on the case of Town of Greece v Galloway. This case had the potential to end all forms of public prayer throughout the nation. In a 5 to 4 ruling with the justices divided on the usual liberal/conservative lines, the court ruled that the long standing tradition of public prayer is constitutional!
Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said, “From the earliest days of the Republic, legislative prayers have been considered compatible with the Establishment Clause.”
Kennedy mentioned that the challengers were not seeking to end public prayer altogether but wanted to require legislative prayers to be equally given from all religious types. Kennedy wrote that the U.S. government cannot constitutionally require ministers to remove the religious character of a prayer “to make it acceptable for the public sphere.” He added that the idea that legislative prayers must be nonsectarian is false. “The purpose of legislative prayer is to lend gravity” to sessions where “the divisive business of governing” will take place.
Using the case of Marsh v. Chambers, Kennedy left it open to the court to review the pattern of prayers over time. Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented from this portion of the ruling because constitutionally, the court should not have power over the content of prayers.
The constitution only says one thing about religion and public prayer, and that is found in the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Matt Walsh wrote very good commentary on what this means. He said, “It would seem, then, that any law barring prayer in any capacity, anywhere, at any point, would not be a reinforcement of the First Amendment, but an obliteration of it.”
If the Supreme Court had ruled that public prayer in a legislature or in any other place is unconstitutional, they would not have ruled according to the words written in the U.S. Constitution. Not only has the United States held onto a tradition of prayer before legislative sessions since the first Constitutional Congress, but the Constitution established by that same body forbids congress to make a law prohibiting the practice.
We are very grateful that a majority of the Supreme Court held up the Constitution and ruled that public prayers may continue in the United States.
The lawyers from Alliance Defending, who defended the case, are starting a movement to “let elected officials know that ‘We the People Pray’.” They are asking for you to join the movement by signing the prayer petition. They plan to give the signatures to the elected officials in each state.
This is a victory for religious freedom in America! The war over the right to practice religion in public and in private is by no means over, but this ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on Monday is very good news!