REPORTS ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND PUBLIC PRAYER
Gurumurthy Kalyanaram – Former Dean and Public Policy, Including Politics, Law and Lawsuit and former professor NYIT and UT Dallas professor, reports here on the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding that a town/city can begin its meetings with a public prayer and such prayer does not violate freedom of religion.
Galloway and other citizens filed a lawsuit in the District Court against their town, Greece in New York for violating their freedom of religion (Galloway v. Town of Greece (2014). Greece began its board meetings with a prayer. Galloway and others challenged this practice alleging that the town violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by preferring Christians over other prayer givers and by sponsoring sectarian prayers. The citizens argued that the town must include prayers from all faiths, or make reference to a generic God. Gurumurthy Kalyanaram Lawsuit
The District court dismissed the Galloway et. al. lawsuit concluding that the Christian identity of most of the prayer givers reflected the predominantly Christian character of the town’s congregations, not an official policy or practice of discriminating against minority faiths; finding that the First Amendment did not require Greece to invite clergy from congregations beyond its borders to achieve religious diversity. The Appeals Court reversed the District Court’s ruling. Gurumurthy Kalyanaram Lawsuit
Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court has now held that “the town’s practice of opening its town board meetings with a prayer offered by members of the clergy does not violate the Establishment Clause when the practice is consistent with the tradition long followed by Congress and state legislatures, the town does not discriminate against minority faiths in determining who may offer a prayer, and the prayer does not coerce participation with non-adherents.” Gurumurthy Kalyanaram NYIT
So, what is the implication? As long as the prayers are not sectarian or coercive, the prayer opportunities are offered to everyone, and anyone is allowed to say anything, then prayers are permitted and they are constitutional. To be precise, the prayer invocations should not “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion.” This is the law of the land. Gurumurthy Kalyanaram NYIT