Public Prayer

Public Prayer

The U.S. Supreme Court in Town of Greece v Galloway addressed the constitutionality of opening a city commission or council meeting with prayer.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s syllabus described Town of Greece’s practice as follows:

Since 1999, the monthly town board meetings in Greece, New York have opened with a roll call, a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer given by clergy selected from congregations listed in a local directory.  While the prayer program is open to all creeds, nearly all of the local congregations are Christian; thus, nearly all of the participating prayer givers have been too.

On May 5, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion Town of Greece.  The lessons from the Supreme Court’s Opinion in Town of Greece are:

  1. Prayer at the beginning of legislative meeting of a municipality does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause;
  2. The “content of the prayer is not of concern to judges provided there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one or disparage any other, faith or belief”;
  3. Absent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize or betray an impermissible government purpose, a challenge based upon the content of a particular prayer will not likely establish a constitutional violation;
  4. So long as the municipality maintains a policy of non-discrimination by making reasonable efforts to identify all the congregations located within its borders and representing that it welcomes prayers by any minister or layman who wishes to give one, the Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact John C. Schrier at (231) 722-5401.

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