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Attorney General Marty Jackley

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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Discretion for Governmental Bodies to Open With Prayer


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE :     Monday, May 05, 2014
CONTACT:  Sara Rabern (605) 773-3215   

United States Supreme Court Upholds Discretion for Governmental
Bodies to Open With Prayer

PIERRE, S.D –  Attorney General Marty Jackley announced today that the United States Supreme Court has upheld the ability of governmental bodies to open with prayer in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, 5-4 decision.

“The framers of our South Dakota Constitution opened their sessions with a prayer in 1883, and our highest court has held today that this practice may continue with our legislature and other governmental bodies,” said Jackley.  “Today’s decision reinforces that prayer is permissible at governmental gatherings so long as it does not amount to preaching and is undertaken in a manner that does not endorse or disparage a particular religion.” 
In August of 2013, South Dakota Attorney Jackley joined 23 other states in a multi-state Amicus or “friend of the court” brief filed in the United States Supreme Court urging that the U.S. Constitution allows for prayer during governmental meetings and legislative session.

In today’s decision, the United States Supreme Court sided with the Attorneys General position and overturned a federal appellate decision that a township practice of opening each board meeting with a prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The township had selected volunteers to give prayers by rotating among various religions, and the Court determined that the town was not coercing its citizens to engage in a religious observance.

The Amici States advocated that “The American people deserve an Establishment Clause jurisprudence that is clear, workable, and faithful to the text and history of the First Amendment.”   The Court further recognized that legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause. This includes opening of governmental meetings where prayer is meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage.