(Photo: The Christian Post / Sonny Hong)
Religious groups have expressed approval for the recent United States Supreme Court decision in the case Town of Greece v. Galloway that allows prayers to be spoken at government meetings.
The Rev. Rob Schenck, president and lead missionary with the group Faith and Action in the Nation's Capital, told The Christian Post that he was "delightfully surprised" by the Court's ruling.
"Even if [the decision] did uphold prayer in public legislative sessions, I wasn't sure how clear that would be. This is crystal clear," said Schenck. "I would say, from reading the opinion, this is going to give very clear guidance in the future and it's going to frustrate a lot of people who will attempt to get prayer at legislative sessions or any kind of public gathering shut down."
Faith and Action held a press conference outside of the Supreme Court building a couple hours after the decision was released. After Schenck spoke, the three Faith and Action members present before the microphone proceeded to kneel and pray in thanks for the decision.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that the leadership of Town of Greece could hold Christian prayers before their town meetings.
"The Court must decide whether the town of Greece, New York, imposes an impermissible establishment of religion by opening its monthly board meetings with a prayer. It must be concluded … that no violation of the Constitution has been shown," read the opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy.
The decision ended a near six-year lawsuit offered by residents of Greece who considered the opening prayers to be unconstitutional given that oftentimes they were sectarian in nature.
Numerous organizations on both sides of the church and state issue released statements in response to the ruling.
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel David Cortman, whose organization represented Greece during the case, declared that "the Supreme Court has again affirmed that Americans are free to pray."
"In America, we tolerate a diversity of opinions and beliefs; we don't silence people or try to separate what they say from what they believe," Cortman added. "Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced."
Russell D. Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, released a statement Monday saying he was "very thankful" for the decision.
"Prayer at the beginning of a meeting is a signal that we aren't ultimately just Americans," said Moore, whose organization filed an amicus brief on behalf of Greece.
"We are citizens of the State, yes, but the State isn't ultimate. There is some higher allegiance than simply political process."
The decision was not without its critics, as Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called it "out of step with the realities of modern-day America."
"I suspect we haven't seen the last of this issue," wrote Boston, whose organization represented the plaintiffs.
"The majority opinion makes it clear that legislative prayer often isn't coercive because the adults being exposed to it have options, such as leaving the room. So, if any misguided religious right activists out there is thinking this decision opens the door for a return of official school prayer, they can forget it."
Ron Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, stated that the Court decision allowed for a prayer policy that "excludes not only the nonreligious, but those of differing faiths."
"It's both striking and sad that five of the six Christian justices on the Supreme Court formed the majority," said Lindsay.
"With a Supreme Court that appears hostile to the rights of religious minorities, those of us who believe in a secular government must redouble our legal and advocacy efforts."
Through the months between when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Greece v. Galloway until the decision, the Greece Town Board continued to hold prayers before their meetings. With Monday's decision, they will likely continue to do so.