Monday, May 5, 2014

Town of Greece v. Galloway

First Amendment: Establishment Clause:  since 1999, the monthly town board meetings in Greece, New York, have opened with a roll call, a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer given by clergy selected from the congregations listed in a local directory. While the prayer program is open to all creeds, nearly all of the local congregations are Christian; thus, nearly all of the participating prayer givers have been too; legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been un­derstood as compatible with the Establishment Clause. Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783, 792. In Marsh, the Court concluded that it was not necessary to define the Establishment Clause’s precise boundary in order to uphold Nebraska’s practice of employing a legis­lative chaplain because history supported the conclusion that the specific practice was permitted. The First Congress voted to appoint and pay official chaplains shortly after approving language for the First Amendment, and both Houses have maintained the office virtu­ally uninterrupted since then. See id., at 787–789, and n. 10. A ma­jority of the States have also had a consistent practice of legislative prayer. Id., at 788–790, and n. 11. There is historical precedent for the practice of opening local legislative meetings with prayer as well. Marsh teaches that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted “by reference to historical practices and understandings.” County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573, 670 (opinion of KENNEDY, J.). Thus, any test must acknowledge a practice that was accepted by the Framers and has withstood the critical scrutiny of time and political change. The Court’s inquiry, then, must be to determine whether the prayer prac­tice in the town of Greece fits within the tradition long followed in Congress and the state legislatures; the “content of the prayer is not of concern to judges,” provided “there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to prose­lytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.” ; To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts decid­ing these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, thus involving government in religious matters to a far greater de­gree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither ed­iting nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact; in rejecting the suggestion that legislative prayer must be nonsectarian, the Court does not imply that no constraints remain on its content. The relevant constraint derives from the prayer’s place at the open­ing of legislative sessions, where it is meant to lend gravity to the oc­casion and reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage. From the Nation’s earliest days, invocations have been addressed to assemblies comprising many different creeds, striving for the idea that people of many faiths may be united in a community of tolerance and devotion, even if they disagree as to religious doctrine. The prayers delivered in Greece do not fall outside this tradition. They may have invoked, e.g., the name of Jesus, but they also invoked universal themes, e.g., by calling for a “spirit of cooperation.” Absent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible gov­ernment purpose, a challenge based solely on the content of a par­ticular prayer will not likely establish a constitutional violation. See 463 U. S., at 794–795. Finally, so long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination, the Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing  (U.S.S.Ct., 05.05.14, Town of Greece v. Galloway, Docket 12-696, J. Kennedy).

Premier Amendement, Clause prohibant l’établissement d’une religion par le Gouvernement : comme préambule à leurs débats, les autorités législatives peuvent organiser un service de prière donné par un prêtre. Cette habitude est bien établie dans tout le pays, cela dès sa fondation. Elle était déjà acceptée du temps des rédacteurs de la Constitution fédérale. Elle ne s’analyse nullement en un soutien actif d’une religion par le Gouvernement. Dans cette affaire, le programme de prières est ouvert à toutes les confessions. Il n’est pas utilisé à des fins de prosélytisme. Il ne vise pas à promouvoir ni à rabaisser une confession particulière. La Constitution fédérale n’impose pas non plus que le contenu de la prière se réfère à un être suprême sans référence à une religion en particulier. Une telle exigence reviendrait à imposer aux Tribunaux de s’immiscer dans l’exercice de la religion, ce qui serait inconstitutionnel. La Cour pourrait toutefois intervenir dans certains cas, différents de ce type de situation où le service de prière a lieu en début de session parlementaire pour en souligner la gravité et l’importance, reflétant des valeurs parties de longue date de l’héritage de la nation. L’idée de base est que des personnes de confessions différentes peuvent être unies dans une communauté de tolérance et de dévotion, même si elles sont en désaccord sur la doctrine religieuse. En l’absence d’un système de prières qui au cours du temps dénigre, pratique le prosélytisme, ou trahit un but gouvernemental qui n’est pas permis, une action fondée uniquement sur le contenu d’une prière particulière n’établira vraisemblablement pas une violation constitutionnelle. Enfin, aussi longtemps que la ville maintient une politique de non-discrimination, la Constitution n’exige pas d’elle qu’elle recherche au-delà de ses frontières un ministre du culte non-chrétien dans un effort d’accomplir un équilibre religieux. Le fait que les prières soient généralement des prières chrétiennes en l’espèce résulte de la situation des différentes fois présentes en ville : une forte majorité de la population religieuse est chrétienne.

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