US Supreme Court Upholds Sectarian Prayers at Public Meetings

Today, the US Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision affirming the right of public bodies to employ certain sectarian prayers during public meetings and events. The decision, in the case Town of Greece v. Galloway, comes from a town in New York State. Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion, with Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor dissenting.  A quote from Justice Kennedy from page 3 of the slip opinion:

Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be under­stood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define and that willing participation in civic affairs can be consistent with a brief acknowledgment of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs. The prayer in this case has a permissible ceremonial purpose. It is not an uncon­stitutional establishment of religion.

Read or download the full opinion online.

In Maryland, a related matter had been underway in Carroll County, as the County Commissioners had recently agreed to modify their opening procedures following a court stay. See previous Conduit Street coverage.

(Note: following the federal ruling, Carroll County has rescinded its decision to modify its prayers – see followup Conduit Street coverage)

For more information on and analysis of the Supreme Court Case, visit the SCOTUSblog website.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties