In a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled that the tradition in the town of Greece, a Rochester suburb, does not denigrate non-Christians and that such invocation does not have to be nondenominational.
The decision — the first on this thorny issue in three decades — essentially extends a 1983 ruling that said legislatures can start their sessions with a prayer.
“The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the conservative majority.
As Justice Anthony Kennedy explains, the tradition of public prayer exists to unite, not divide.
“The decision concluded that legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause. As practiced by Congress since the framing of the Constitution, legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.”