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Supreme Court Upholds Legislative Prayer at Council Meetings

Reverend Dr. Rob Schenck, of Faith and Action, center, speaks in front of the Supreme Court with Raymond Moore, left, and Patty Bills, both also of Faith and Action, during a news conference, Monday, May 5, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Reverend Dr. Rob Schenck, of Faith and Action, center, speaks in front of the Supreme Court with Raymond Moore, left, and Patty Bills, both also of Faith and Action, during a news conference, Monday, May 5, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

(The Washington Post) – A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that legislative bodies such as city councils can begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors a specific religion.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that Christian prayers said before meetings of an Upstate New York town council did not violate the constitutional prohibition against government establishment of religion; the justices cited history and tradition.

“Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court’s conservative majority.

The ruling reflected a Supreme Court that has become more lenient on how government may accommodate religion in civic life without crossing the line into an endorsement of a particular faith. All nine justices endorsed the concept of legislative prayer, with the four dissenters agreeing that the public forum “need not become a religion-free zone,” in the words of Justice Elena Kagan.

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