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The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that government meetings may begin with prayers so long as they do not discriminate against particular religions.
By a 5-4 ruling, the court sided with the town of Greece, New York, saying that prayer at town meetings "fits within the tradition" followed by Congress and state legislatures. Since the prayer is ceremonial and not related to policymaking, the court said, it is therefore not an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
Moreover, the court found that overtly Christian prayer was permissible "so long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination" toward other religions. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that "legislative bodies do not engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate."
In a blistering dissent, however, Justice Elena Kagan said Greece did discriminate against non-Christian faiths by inviting predominantly Christian clergy to deliver the prayer. "When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans," she wrote, adding, "they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines."