WASHINGTON — Prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity, a divided Supreme Court ruled today.
The court said in a 5-4 decision that the content of the prayers is not significant as long as they do not denigrate non-Christians or proselytize.
The ruling by the court’s conservative majority was a victory for the town of Greece, N.Y., outside of Rochester. The Obama administration sided with the town.
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.