(Washington, D.C.) The Supreme Court gave limited approval on Monday to public prayers at a New York town’s board meetings, citing the country’s history of religious acknowledgment in the legislature.
The 5-4 ruling came in yet another contentious case over the intersection of faith and the civic arena.
It was confined to the specific circumstances and offered little guidance on how other communities should offer civic prayers without violating the Constitution.
Two local women brought suit against officials in Greece, New York, objecting to invocations at monthly public sessions on government property.
The invocations, according to the plaintiffs, have been overwhelmingly Christian in nature over the years.
Memphis City Council members take part in an opening prayer and have made a concerted effort to make sure those leading the prayer are from various religions.
City Councilman Lee Harris teaches at the University of Memphis Law School and agrees with the ruling.
He said, “I think the vast majority of Americans have faith, or should have faith. Or have hope. I think expressions of faith, as long as it doesn’t not establish a religion or pick one religion over another. I think it’s probably a good idea.”
Groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation have threatened to sue the city because of the prayers at their meetings.
That group says it infringes on the constitutional right of the separation of church and state.
They call this ruling ignorant, and say they are deeply disappointed.
Councilman Harris says the city is working to accommodate those without faith, but also include different religions as well.
“Prayer may not be the right word but every city council member has a chance to invite somebody from their community to lead an expression of faith. So we’ve seen people from Jewish tradition from the Baptist tradition all sorts of Christian denominations and non-Christian denominations.”
The Supreme Court ruling states these prayers do break the law if they are meant to intimidate or convert non-believers to a specific religion.
Harris says it is not about who you are praying to, but rather a way of coming together in a city that is often divided.
“The city of Memphis is facing some severe and tough challenges. To have a little hope and have a little faith at the beginning facing some of these challenges is probably a good thing.”
The Foundation for Freedom From Religion says they hope this ruling will be overturned in the future.