Greece (N.Y.) Has a Prayer

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Brett Harvey, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, was one of the attorneys who represented the Town of Greece in its successful defense of public prayer at the U.S. Supreme Court. He talks to National Review Online about the win.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why is this Greece, N.Y., case so important?

BRETT HARVEY: The Supreme Court’s decision not only vindicates the town of Greece, but reaffirms that Americans are free to pray, and prayer opponents are no longer “free to prey.” Public bodies across the country have been subjected to systematic attacks and a series of federal lawsuits in an effort to force them to silence or censor prayers. Monday’s ruling should end the attacks on this historic tradition. The decision not only affirms these public prayers, but it makes it clear that prayer givers remain free to pray as guided by their own faith.

LOPEZ: Did anything jump out at you in the ruling?

HARVEY: Importantly, the court not only protected the freedom to continue opening public meetings with prayer, a practice of the authors of the Constitution, but it also protected the dignity of the prayer giver by recognizing the right to pray free of government censorship. The court noted that a demand for generic prayers “would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.”

LOPEZ: Why do we need ceremonial prayer at government functions? It could be argued it is both superficial and not who we are anymore, couldn’t it?

HARVEY: Monday’s opinion recognizes that having public meetings open with prayer is more than simply a relic from a bygone era. As the majority explains “legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of higher purposes, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.” The fact that this tradition has endured for hundreds of years demonstrates the continued benefit of such reminders.

LOPEZ: Is this about secularism? Is this ruling a defeat for secularism?

HARVEY: The Supreme Court decision values the government’s public accommodation of the religious practices of its people, even when they serve in public office, and recognizes our religious heritage. The majority rejected an understanding of the Constitution that would sweep away practices that were acknowledged by the Framers and have withstood the critical scrutiny of time and political change.

LOPEZ: Does it have implications for other religious-freedom cases?


HARVEY: The decision reaffirms legal principles that will have far-reaching implications. In recent years, federal lawsuits have been filed challenging many historic governmental acknowledgments of religion, from inauguration prayers and the pledge of allegiance to the national motto. This decision reaffirms the value and constitutionality of these practices. This case not only protects the ability of the government to accommodate the faith of the people, but adds further protection for people to publicly pray and express their own faith. This decision will continue to have an impact on constitutional jurisprudence for years to come.

LOPEZ: Is there a big picture here worth reflecting on?

HARVEY: Americans remain free to pray, just as our Founders were.

LOPEZ: Having worked with the people from Greece, what would you like others to know?

HARVEY: It has been a privilege to represent the town of Greece, N.Y. Alliance Defending Freedom will be launching a campaign to educate public officials about their right to permit uncensored prayers that seek Divine guidance and blessing during public meetings. We stand ready to advise public officials as to how they can accommodate and respect the faiths of the people in their community.