“Some desire to enthrone a rigid secularism as the state religion while suppressing all other views. In contrast, ordered liberty allows free expression for all.” — Mark Tooley, IRD President
WASHINGTON, May 5, 2014 /Christian Newswire
/ — U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled today that legislative bodies such as city councils can begin their meetings with prayer.
The court ruled 5 to 4 that Christian prayers given before meetings of the town council of Greece, New York did not violate the constitutional prohibition against government establishment of religion.
IRD President Mark Tooley commented:
“We can be grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court in ‘Greece v. Galloway’ upheld freedom of speech and religion by affirming the right of a town council to hear unrestricted prayer by local clergy. Kudos to groups like the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Becket Fund for their court briefs and advocacy.
“Sadly, the court ruling was narrowly 5-4. And more religious groups should have actively spoken to the issue. Some actually filed briefs against the town council’s allowing unrestricted prayers.
“Some desire to enthrone a rigid secularism as the state religion while suppressing all other views. In contrast, ordered liberty allows free expression for all. Religious freedom remains under attack, and all persons who cherish freedom of speech and religion should prepare for future battles.”
In the majority decision, Justice Kennedy wrote:
“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.”
Peter Ferrara general counsel for the American Civil Rights Union explained the “coercion test” this way,
“At the time the First Amendment was adopted, the countries of Europe each maintained their own preferred ‘Establishment of Religion,’ which meant an official government religion enforced by laws requiring attendance at the official church, regular contributions to it, and other preferences in law for members of that church. These establishment policies all involved government coercion to force citizens to support the one favored church.
“Almost all of the American colonies had such establishments as well, with legal compulsion or coercion as their hallmark.
“These practices, and anything like them involving coercion in regard to religion, are what the framers meant to prohibit in adopting the Establishment Clause, for this is what an Establishment of Religion meant at the time. They did not mean, however, to prohibit any voluntary, public, religious speech, or religious expression or symbolism, which do not involve any such coercion.”
Susan A. Carleson Chairman of the ACRU responded to the court’s decision by saying, “The Court’s ruling reflects elements of the Coercion Test that we have long championed. This is a victory for the First Amendment and common sense.”