“The Court’s ruling reflects elements of the Coercion Test that we have long championed,” said ACRU Chairman Susan A. Carleson.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 5, 2014) — The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, upheld the right of local officials to begin meetings with public prayer.
In a brief filed on Aug. 2, 2013 in Town of Greece v. Susan Galloway and Linda Stevens, ACRU General Counsel Peter Ferrara defended the upstate New York town’s practice of allowing rotating, voluntary prayers before council meetings and explained the Coercion Test:
“At the time the First Amendment was adopted, the countries of Europe each maintained their own preferred ‘Establishment of Religion’, which meant an official government religion enforced by laws requiring attendance at the official church, regular contributions to it, and other preferences in law for members of that church. These establishment policies all involved government coercion to force citizens to support the one favored church.
“Almost all of the American colonies had such establishments as well, with legal compulsion or coercion as their hallmark.
“These practices, and anything like them involving coercion in regard to religion, are what the framers meant to prohibit in adopting the Establishment Clause, for this is what an Establishment of Religion meant at the time. They did not mean, however, to prohibit any voluntary, public, religious speech, or religious expression or symbolism, which do not involve any such coercion.”
In the majority decision, Justice Kennedy wrote:
“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.”
ACRU Chairman Susan A. Carleson said, “The Court’s ruling reflects elements of the Coercion Test that we have long championed. This is a victory for the First Amendment and common sense.”