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Supreme Court rules in favor of prayer at public town meetings

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Monday in a 5-4 decision the United States Supreme Court ruled that opening town council meetings with prayer does not violate the U.S. Constitution, even when those prayers are expressly Christian in nature. The Court ruled that the prayers were not unconstitutional as long as officials make a good-faith effort to include all beliefs.

Ruling that the audience was not the public, but the lawmakers themselves Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that "The prayer opportunity in this case must be evaluated against the backdrop of historical practice. 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 ruling came as a victory for the New York town of Greece, just outside of Rochester. In 2007, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens took the town council to federal court saying that the town council prayers aligned the town with Christianity. The town subsequently added prayers by a Jewish layman, a member of the Baha’i faith and a Wiccan priestess.

Prior to this, the court had held in 1983 in a case involving the Nebraska State Legislature that prayer is not a violation of the First Amendment but is part of the nation’s fabric. The Monday ruling was consistent with the 1983 ruling.

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