FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 17, 2016
CONTACT: Sara Rabern (605) 773-3215
Attorney General’s Response to the ACLU on the Constitutional Right to Freedom of Religion
PIERRE, S.D. – On March 16, 2016, the Attorney General held a community meeting inviting the press and the community in order to provide an update on the death and financial investigation into the Gear Up program. Prior to beginning the meeting, a pastor opened with a general prayer. The ACLU has characterized the prayer as a constitutional violation. Despite positions taken by the ACLU, it is both appropriate and legally permissible.
“Joining a community that has tragically lost an entire family in a moment of prayer is both appropriate and legal. The United States Supreme Court has clearly upheld and recognized the Guaranteed Constitutional Right to Freedom of Religion. As Attorney General, I have joined with other State Attorneys General in successfully allowing gatherings which include local government and other legislative functions to open a meeting with an appropriate prayer. I invite the ACLU to join with me and other State Attorneys General in both recognizing and protecting Civil Liberties and Constitutional Rights,” said Attorney General Jackley.
In August of 2013, South Dakota Attorney Jackley joined 23 other states in a multi-state brief filed in the United States Supreme Court urging that the U.S. Constitution allows for prayer during governmental meetings and legislative session.
In the Town of Greece decision, the United States Supreme Court sided with the Attorneys General position that a township practice of opening each board meeting with a prayer did not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The Attorneys General 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.