The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday, May 5, that a town in upstate New York did not violate the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer.
The New York Times reports that a divided Supreme Court voted 5-4 on the case. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, saying that the prayers were merely ceremonial.
In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town's prayer practices violate the "norm of religious equality."
The case originated in Greece, N.Y., where officials say that members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer, but The New York Times reports that almost all chaplains have been Christian.
Two residents sued the town because the prayers offended them and "made them feel excluded and disrespected," according to the written decision filed by Kennedy.
The Court narrowed down the definition of prayer, saying they may not be used to praise the virtues of one faith, and may not cast other faiths and beliefs in a negative light.
Two court cases that have dealt with prayer and the government include Marsh v. Chambers and Engel v. Vitale.
In Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 case from Nebraska, the Supreme Court ruled that the Nebraska Legislature's practice of opening its legislative sessions with prayer from a Presbyterian minister were ceremonies "deeply embedded in the history and tradition of the country."
In Engel v. Vitale, a 1962 case from New York, the Supreme Court ruled that a state law that required public schools to open each day with the Pledge of Allegiance and a nondenominational prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
What do you think about the Supreme Court's decision? Is it acceptable to start local government meetings with a prayer?