What's at Stake
Whether the Establishment Clause prohibits legislative bodies from opening their meetings with sectarian prayer.
Thirty years ago, in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), the Supreme Court upheld the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of opening its sessions with nonsectarian prayers delivered by a chaplain. The issue in this case is whether a town board in upstate New York may open its meeting with sectarian prayers that have been overwhelmingly Christian in practice. In its amicus brief, the ACLU urges the Court to overrule Marsh and hold that any official governmental prayer violates the separation of church and state. If the Court is unwilling to go that far, the ACLU argues that official sectarian prayers should be prohibited under the Establishment Clause to preserve the core constitutional principle that the government cannot favor one religion over another.
Update: The Supreme Court holds that the town’s prayer practice does not violate the Establishment Clause.