Recently, in Town of Greece, New York v Galloway, the United States Supreme Court considered whether a prayer given before monthly town board meetings violated the Establishment Clause. Since 1999 the town of Greece began inviting local clergy to deliver an invocation before the town board meeting. The local clergy, all of who were unpaid volunteers, were selected from a local directory of congregations and were free to determine the content of their invocations. While the town maintained that any minster or layperson was welcome to give the invocation; from 1999-2007, all the participating minsters were Christian.
The Court held that the prayer before town board meetings did not violate the Establishment Clause because the practice was consistent with the long tradition followed by Congress and state legislatures and did not discriminate against minority faiths. The Court noted that Greece made reasonable efforts to identify all of the congregations within its borders, that the prayers were for the board members (not the audience) and that the town board members did not direct the audience to participate in the prayers, single out dissidents, or indicate that their decisions would be influenced by a citizen’s participation or non-participation in a prayer. The Court further noted that “[o]nce it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates, unfettered by what an administrator or judge considers nonsectarian.” Prayers may be used to solemnize the legislative session so long as the practice does not proselytize or denigrate a particular faith or belief.