WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court Monday strongly affirmed the freedom of Americans to pray according to their own beliefs at public meetings. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent the town of Greece, N.Y. in the lawsuit, Town of Greece v. Galloway. Lead counsel and allied attorney Thomas G. Hungar of the Washington, D.C. law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP argued the case before the Supreme Court in November of last year.
“The Supreme Court has again affirmed that Americans are free to pray,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “In America, we tolerate a diversity of opinions and beliefs; we don’t silence people or try to separate what they say from what they believe. 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.”
“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…,” the court’s opinion states. “That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing references to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition.”
Although the case centers on a New York town’s prayer practice, the court’s decision has ramifications upon other similar cases still in progress in lower courts. ADF attorneys will seek to resolve those cases in light of the decision, and they plan a nationwide campaign to inform governmental bodies at all levels that they are free to include prayer in their public meetings.
“You shouldn’t be forced to forfeit your freedom to appease someone who doesn’t like what you say or believe,” said ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey. “Opponents of prayer want to use government to attack our freedom, but the Constitution established our government to protect our freedom.”
“The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the practice of prayer before legislative bodies is firmly embedded in the history and traditions of this nation,” Hungar added. “In so doing, they have simply reinforced what has been true about America since its founding: Americans should be free to speak and act consistently with their own beliefs.”
ADDITIONAL EXCERPTS FROM THE COURT’S DECISION:
- “The tradition reflected in Marsh [the primary existing Supreme Court precedent regarding prayer before public bodies] permits chaplains to ask their own God for blessings of peace, justice, and freedom that find appreciation among people of all faiths. That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing references to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition.”
- Plaintiffs are asking that federal courts “act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice….”
- “Marsh nowhere suggested that the constitutionality of legislative prayer turns on the neutrality of its content.”
- “Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith.”
- “Respondents argue, in effect, that legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God.”
- “Marsh, indeed, requires an inquiry into the prayer opportunity as a whole, rather than into the contents of a single prayer.”
- “That nearly all of the congregations in town turned out to be Christian does not reflect an aversion or bias on the part of town leaders against minority faiths.”
- Pronunciation guide: Hungar (HUN’-gahr)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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