HOME > NEWSROOM > ARTICLES > Supreme Court Upholds Public Prayer

Supreme Court Upholds Public Prayer

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week in a 5-4 decision that the Town of Greece (a suburb of Rochester, NY) had not violated the Constitution by its practice of beginning town meetings with a public prayer. The majority of Justices affirmed the long established history of such prayers and rejected the notion that they were in some way coercive on individual citizens.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who penned the Court’s ruling, declared, “As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions.” Justice Kennedy continued, “That many appreciate these acknowledgments of the divine in our public institutions does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve its content.”

In his review of the decision, Craig Parshall, NRB Senior Vice President and General Counsel, highlighted, “The Court put largely to rest the assumption by many radical secularists that ‘ecumenical prayers,’ in other words, bland, non-sectarian invocations, are the only ones that are constitutionally permitted at official public events.” Indeed, citing a 1983 decision upholding legislative prayer, the Court stated:

“Marsh” nowhere suggested that the constitutionality of legislative prayer turns on the neutrality of its content…. Government may not mandate a civic religion that stifles any but the most generic reference to the sacred any more than it may prescribe a religious orthodoxy.

This Supreme Court decision reverses the previous ruling of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which had charged that the Town of Greece’s prayers were unconstitutional for being predominantly Christian in content.  NRB member Alliance Defending Freedom was key to the legal team appealing the case.  Celebrating the final verdict, ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said, “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.”

  • Find the full text of this U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
  • Learn more from Alliance Defending Freedom.
  • Read Craig Parshall’s commentary on the decision.

 By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: May 9, 2014

Latest News

60,000 Shoebox Gifts Airlifted to Children Displaced by ISIS Militants in Northern Iraq

Samaritan’s Purse recently airlifted 60,000 Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts to Northern Iraq, where displaced Iraqi kids have been stripped of their homes and most possessions.

Aaron Shust Partners with Radio Outlets for Holiday Promotions That Help People in Need

Dove-Award winning Aaron Shust is teaming with radio outlets across the country to help make Christmas a little more merry to those in need.

Christian Radio to Give Free College Tuition to Full Time Staff

Positive Alternative Radio (PAR) is providing its employees innovative new benefits that include access to higher education, time off for community service, and financial counseling.

CTVN Announces New Roku Channel

Cornerstone Network (CTVN) is now available on Roku TV and able to stream programming to viewers live and on demand.

Christmas Reflections in Washington

While end-of-year debates on government appropriations, military policy, tax provisions, judicial nominations, and other issues continue their rough road to resolution in this lame-duck session of Congress, Christmas is in the air in the nation’s capital.

FCC Rules Against Church on Closed Captioning

The FCC recently denied a church’s request for a waiver from closed captioning rules, shedding more light on the agency’s approach to determining what may truly be an “economically burdensome” situation.

Senator Promises a Bill Broader than ENDA

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced this week that he intends to introduce legislation next year that will roll the controversial Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) into a broader...

White Paper Issued on Video Policy

Key leaders in the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week released a white paper on video policy as they continue their path toward a review and revamp the Communications Act.

NRB15 Worship Service on Wednesday, February 25, 2015; Open to the Public

The NRB Convention in 2015 will be a Monday-to-Thursday event rather than a Saturday-to-Tuesday event as in years before, but convention participants will still have an opportunity to worship together during the Wednesday evening worship service on February 25, 2015.

NRB to Host Regional Networking Event for Christian Film Pros, Jan. 10

Christian film professionals in the Baltimore, DC, and Richmond region are invited to attend a networking event next month at the NRB headquarters in Manassas, VA.

More News