Supreme Court allows prayer at public meetings

David G. Savage
May 5, 2014

The Supreme Court’s decision Monday to allow Christian prayers at city council and other public meetings divided justices not only ideologically, but along religious lines as well.

The five justices in majority are Catholics, and they agreed that an opening prayer at a public government meeting, delivered by a Christian pastor, brings the town together.


An earlier version of this post stated that the plaintiffs in the case concerning Christian prayers at city council and other public meetings were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. The two women were represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“By inviting ministers to serve as chaplain for the month, …the town is acknowledging the central place that religion and religious institutions hold in the lives of those present,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy. If some citizens hear prayers that “make them feel excluded and disrespected,” they should ignore them, he said. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable.”

Joining Kennedy were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Three of the four dissenters are Jewish: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. The fourth, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was raised as a Catholic, but she is said to be not a regular church goer.

Justice Elena Kagan faulted the majority for approving an official policy of “religious favoritism.” In her dissent, she said the majority might view the matter differently had a “mostly Muslim town” opened its session with Muslim prayers or if a Jewish community invited a rabbi every month.
Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable. – Justice Anthony Kennedy

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