By: Mike Pike
The U.S. Supreme Court recently opened the floor for sectarian prayers at local government meetings, deciding public prayers before the town board meetings in Greece, N.Y., did not violate the First Amendment rights of citizens attending the meetings.
Because prayers very commonly open meetings of local governments and other community gatherings, the attorneys at Skeeters, Bennett, Wilson and Pike believe it is important to understand the meaning of the Court’s 5-to-4 ruling.
The town, outside Rochester, N.Y., opens its meetings with prayers almost always delivered by Christians, and some prayers emphasize beliefs specific to the Christian faith. Two residents sued the town, claiming the practice is unconstitutional.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, delivering the majority opinion in May, wrote the prayers, even though they invoked the name of Jesus, were consistent with public prayers spoken throughout American history and do not violate the Constitution’s prohibition of a governmental establishment of religion.
“These ceremonial prayers strive for the idea that people of many faiths may be united in a community of tolerance and devotion. Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith,” Kennedy wrote.
Further, the Court refused to require such prayers use only generic religious references.
The content of such prayers are not a concern of the law or the Court unless there is a pattern of prayers used to denigrate or attempt to convert nonbelievers, Kennedy said.
Mike currently is the attorney for the Cities of Radcliff and Vine Grove, advising elected officials, employees, and various city boards on a wide variety of legal matters. A member of the American Bar Association, the Kentucky Bar Association, Hardin County Bar, Meade County Bar, and Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Mike focuses his legal practice on cases concerning personal injury and social security, municipal law, business formation, and estates and probate law. Additionally, Mike oversees the real estate law department for the firm.