B’nai B’rith is deeply disappointed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing legislative bodies to open public meetings with sectarian prayers. In permitting elected officials to favor one religion above others, the ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and harms the rights of religious minorities.
The lawsuit challenged the town council of Greece, N.Y., which regularly opens its meetings with prayers, often led by Christian clergy. The court ruled 5-4 that such explicitly sectarian prayers before official meetings do not infringe on constitutional religious freedoms.
The high court’s decision ignores America’s precious religious diversity and fails to uphold the constitutional guarantee that the government shall not express a preference for a specific religion.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy.” Kennedy’s argument ignores the discrimination and even intimidation that religious minorities often face.
It is impossible to say how a citizen might be viewed in a town council setting should they refuse to participate in religious proceedings while still wishing their interests to be heard by their representative officials. B’nai B’rith agrees with the observation made by Justice Elena Kagan in her dissent that the clergy in question “put some residents to the unenviable choice of either pretending to pray like the majority or declining to join its communal activity, at the very moment of petitioning their elected leaders.”