For those Americans who believe in the sanctity of freedom of speech, religion, and the First Amendment (specifically the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof”), the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Town of Greece, NY vs. Galloway upholding these rights in local government is a victory.
As Justice Kennedy stated in his decision, “The First Amendment is not a majority rule, and a government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech. Once it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer-giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates.”
These words give guidance, and permission, to prayer-givers. When asked to pray at local government gatherings, pray-givers now have the blessing, so to speak, to pray to their own God. Many prayer-givers have been disconcerted about how to pray to a gathering of diverse people on a local level. Should they be generic or true to their own convictions? How does one not “offend”? According to the recent Supreme Court decision, the prayer-givers have the right to pray to their God of choice.
This great liberty, fought and bought with blood, sweat, and tears, is accompanied by great responsibilities, however, from the local government, the prayer-givers, and the community of citizens. Today’s America embodies a wide swath of religions; thus, local governments carry the responsibility of incorporating a comparable scope of prayer-givers that encompasses varied religions. The prayer-givers have the right to be honest to their convictions, honoring their God, but also have the responsibility to craft a prayer that does not force their beliefs on others. The prayer-giver should refrain from using prayers that “threaten damnation or preach conversion,” stated Justice Kennedy. The community of citizens has the responsibility to be respectful to the prayer-giver and the local government being sustained by their right to believe in the prayer or not.