WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court said Monday that prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity.
The court said in 5-4 decision that the content of the prayers is not significant as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion.
The ruling was a victory for the town of Greece, N.Y., outside of Rochester.
In 1983, the court upheld an opening prayer in the Nebraska legislature and said that prayer is part of the nation's fabric, not a violation of the First Amendment. Monday's ruling was consistent with the earlier one.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation's traditions.
"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," Kennedy said.
Justice Elena Kagan, in a dissent for the court's four liberal justices, said the case differs significantly from the 1983 decision because "Greece's town meetings involve participation by ordinary citizens, and the invocations given - directly to those citizens - were predominantly sectarian in content."
A federal appeals court in New York ruled that Greece violated the Constitution by opening nearly every meeting over an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity.