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

Embracing Supreme Court Ruling: 'Spiritually Schizophrenic'?

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling imposing “gay marriage” nationwide has reignited conversation within churches about what marriage is and why that holy union is important. Is acceptance of the Court’s ruling “spiritually schizophrenic”?

Chief Justice Gives Ominous Warning on Marriage & Faith

NRB is repulsed by the Supreme Court’s decision today to undermine the institution of marriage by imposing “gay marriage” nationwide. Moreover, taking note of Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissenting opinion,

DOTCOM Bill Approved by House, Advances in Senate

A bipartisan consensus has solidified on Capitol Hill as Members of Congress seek to monitor a transfer of authority over the Internet.

‘Freedom of Religion’ vs ‘Freedom of Worship’

Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, joined more than 60 other religious and conservative leaders in urging the federal government to uphold the Bill of Rights’ freedom of religion, not simply a so-called “freedom of worship.”

Center for Christian Statesmanship Recognizes Sen. James Lankford with Award

The D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship, a ministry of Evangelism Explosion International, honored Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) with its Distinguished Christian Statesman Award during an event Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Senator Reiterates Call for Release of Pastor Abedini

As the imprisonment of Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, surpassed 1,000 days this week, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) took to the Senate Floor to highlight his plight and that of three other Americans in Iran...

Theme Picked for Movieguide®’s 24th Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala

“Home and Heart” is the theme for the 24th Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry, announced Movieguide® Founder Dr. Ted Baehr.

NRB President, Members Take Stand for Marriage

Ahead of the Supreme Court's highly anticipated ruling on marriage, conservative Christian and faith leaders across the spectrum are taking their stand in support of marriage between one man and one woman.

NRB Supports First Amendment Defense Act

This week Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Congressman Raúl Labrador (R-ID) introduced legislation aimed at defending religious freedom from government encroachment.

NRB Statement on Attack in Charleston, SC

Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, condemned Wednesday night's deadly attack on parishioners of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.

More News