Pray On: Members of the town board bow their heads in prayer at the start of a meeting in Greece, N.Y., in June 2013. (Heather Ainsworth / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway not only vindicates the town of Greece, N.Y., but reaffirms that all Americans are free to pray and prayer opponents are no longer “free to prey.”
Public bodies across the country have been subjected to systematic attacks and a series of federal lawsuits in an effort to force them to silence or censor prayers. The May 5 decision not only affirms the historic tradition of public prayers, but it makes it clear that prayer-givers remain free to pray as guided by their own faith.
Our opponents are right that America is more diverse and pluralistic than when the country was founded. The Supreme Court was right to note that “[Government] acknowledges our growing diversity not by proscribing sectarian content but by welcoming ministers of many creeds.”
Town of Greece officials agree, and the prayer policy and practice reflects this. Everyone in the town is invited to participate. The town’s practice is neutral, fair and inclusive.
The town even offered the ­opportunity to participate in opening prayer to the women who eventually sued. Even today, the town is working with an atheist who asked to participate.
Opening prayer continues to be a unifying practice in the town of Greece and across America as a result of this decision.
Importantly, the court not only protected the freedom to continue opening public meetings with prayer, a practice of the authors of the Constitution, but it also protected the dignity of the prayer-giver by recognizing the right to pray free of government censorship. The court correctly noted that a demand for generic prayers “would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.”
The court’s opinion recognizes that opening public meetings with prayer is more than a dusty relic from a bygone era. As the majority explains, “legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of higher ­purposes, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.” The fact that this tradition has endured for hundreds of years demonstrates the continued benefit of such reminders.
In recent years, federal lawsuits have challenged many historic governmental acknowledgments of religion, from inauguration prayers and the pledge of allegiance to the national motto. This decision endorses the value and constitutionality of these practices. It not only protects the ability of the government to accommodate the faith of the people, but it adds further protection for people to publicly pray and express their own faith. The historic decision will continue to be felt in constitutional jurisprudence for years to come.
Brett Harvey is senior counsel at Alliance ­Defending Freedom, which represented the town of Greece at the U.S. Supreme Court.