LANCASTER (CBSLA.com/AP) — The Supreme Court said Monday that prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity.
KNX 1070’s Jon Baird reports the court ruled 5-4 that invocations can refer to Jesus Christ or other religious figures as long as there’s no effort to proselytize or denigrate others, and as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion.
In 1983, the court upheld an opening prayer in the Nebraska legislature and said that prayer is part of the nation’s fabric, not a violation of the First Amendment. Monday’s ruling was consistent with the earlier one.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation’s traditions.
“The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers,” Kennedy said.
Several Southland cities have grappled with the issue of opening meetings with prayer, including in Lancaster, where a U.S. District Court judge ruled in 2011 that such prayers were constitutional.
The Supreme Court ruling also appeared to emphasize including other faiths beside Christianity in any publicly-offered prayers.
“The opinion also was careful to say that if the prayers ever become overwhelmingly dominated by one religion, that could be a problem,” said Loyola Law School professor Aaron Caplan.
Kennedy, however, said judges should not be involved in evaluating the content of prayer because it could lead to legislatures requiring “chaplains to redact the religious content from their message in order to make it acceptable for the public sphere.”
He added, “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.”
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