With Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for a 5-4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court today overturned an appeals court and held that a New York town council’s practice of opening the meeting with a Christian prayer did not violate the Constitution. The opinion said the prayer was not coercive to non-Christians and a non-sectarian prayer was not required. Here’s the opinion.
The opinion did draw distinctions with rulings where school prayers have been held unconstitutional. Said the court:
… the record here does not suggest citizens are dissuaded from leaving the meeting room during the prayer, arriving late or making a later protest. That the prayer in Greece is delivered during the opening ceremonial portion of the town’s meeting, not the policymaking portion, also suggests that is purpose and effect are to acknowledge religous leaders and their institutions, not to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.
Arkansas impact likely slight. Prayers routinely open government meetings in Arkansas, though some groups attempt to urge non-sectarian prayers.
BTW: This is as good a time as any to mention that the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He says the 1st Amendment, at issue in the New York prayer case, only applies to Christians anyway.