Sectarian Prayer at Public Meetings? Yes We Can!

Written by Suzanne Olden on May 7, 2014

Prayer at public meetings is a violation of the Constitution! Or so say two residents of the county in which I reside. They sued our County Commissioners for doing what they have done for decades: pray. They no longer have a leg to stand on. The US Supreme Court just said so. Prayer at public meetings, sectarian or otherwise, is constitutional.

Two residents of Carroll County, Maryland recently sued the County Commissioners because they begin each meeting with a prayer. Each Commissioner gets a turn to pray and for some the prayer is decidedly Christian and done in the name of the Lord. The suit alleges that the commissioners gave sectarian prayers which contained Christian references and none of the prayers included prayers to non-Christian deities or used non-Christian language. One Commissioner refused to abide by the upper court’s temporary restraining order to not pray in the Lord’s name. Citizens disgusted with the whole lawsuit came to several meetings after the Order was handed down. They used the comment period to specifically pray in the Lord’s name.

The two who instigated the whole thing are part of the cult of the perpetually offended, in congress with the American Humanist Association. After the SCOTUS decision was handed down on Monday, a federal judge lifted the order barring prayer from being done in the name of Jesus Christ. This suit has now been made moot, or not legally relevant because the issue or issues have been settled by a higher (in this case the highest) court… and I couldn’t be giddier about the decision! No more of my tax dollars wasted on a really stupid lawsuit!

Monday the SCOTUS handed down a 5-4 decision in Greece v. Galloway (12-696). That ruling makes this lawsuit moot. The court said that the content of the prayers is not significant. In fact, Justice Kennedy went on to say that judges shouldn’t be involved in ruling on or discussing the content of prayer. This is, at the very least, because it could lead to legislatures requiring “chaplains to redact the religious content from their message in order to make it acceptable for the public sphere.” Let’s revisit that again: the Courts ruling on content of prayer could lead to legislatures making laws about the content of prayers. Well, THAT’s certainly unconstitutional!

The 1st Amendment doesn’t say that there should be no prayer in public. Far from it. It says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Banning prayer in public is certainly “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Directing the content of prayer is certainly establishing a religion. In the case of a town or county opening meeting with a prayer, as long as they do not denigrate non-Christians or proselytize, the Court said it doesn’t matter if prayers are specifically Christian, or specifically based on any other religion. It. Doesn’t. Matter.

Justice Kennedy hit the nail on the head. He continued in the decision to say that prayers are in keeping with our nation’s traditions, and that 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.” Most importantly, he stated that “Government may not mandate a civic religion that stifles any but the most generic reference to the sacred any more than it may prescribe a religious orthodoxy.” Again, government can’t require that prayer at public meetings be generic because the act of dictating the content of prayer would be establishing a government sponsored religion.

The decision is a win for all Americans. Prayer is part of the lives of the majority of Americans, regardless of their faith. Congress, nor by extension States or local governments, may not dictate the content of anyone’s prayer, regardless of where they are praying. Isn’t that what our Founders were looking for in the first place? Freedom from a tyrannical government dictating how we should worship?



Suzanne Reisig Olden is a Catholic Christian, Conservative, married mother of two, who loves God, family and country in that order. She lives northwest of Baltimore, in Carroll County, Maryland. She graduated from Villa Julie College/Stevenson University with a BS in Paralegal Studies and works as a paralegal for a franchise company, specializing in franchise law and intellectual property. Originally from Baltimore, and after many moves, she came home to raise her son and daughter, now high school and college aged, in her home state. Suzanne also writes for The Firebreathing Conservative website ( and hopes you'll come visit there as well for even more discussion of conservative issues.