It's OK for town council meetings to open with prayers, even if those prayers heavily reference Christianity, the Supreme Court declared today, in a 5-4 ruling split along familiar ideological lines. The court said that the content of the prayers is irrelevant, as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion. "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," Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
The ruling was a victory for the town of Greece, NY, which is located just outside of Rochester. A federal appeals court had ruled that Greece violated the Constitution by opening its town council meetings with explicitly Christian prayers. The high court rejected that logic, instead remaining consistent with a 1983 ruling holding that prayer is part of the nation's fabric, not a violation of the First Amendment. But in her dissent, Elena Kagan argued that this case was different, because "Greece's town meetings involve participation by ordinary citizens, and the invocations given—directly to those citizens—were predominantly sectarian in content."