Does Prayer Have a Role in Government?


The New Jersey legislature begins its sessions with an invocation delivered by a visiting chaplain. Like many other government bodies, the prayer is part of the pomp and circumstance that has accompanied the political process for hundreds of years.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, almost all state legislatures begin their sessions with some form of opening prayer. The custom can be traced back to the British Parliament, which began each day with a "reading of the prayers." In the United States, our founder fathers continued the practice with the first Congress under the Constitution.

Despite the rich tradition, the relationship between government and prayer is about to be tested. During its 2014 term, the U.S. Supreme Court will revisit whether the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits public prayer.

In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that "a legislative prayer practice that, however well-intentioned, conveys to a reasonable objective observer under the totality of the circumstances an official affiliation with a particular religion, violates the clear command of the [First Amendment's] Establishment Clause." The case involves a New York town's ritual of starting board meetings with a prayer by a member of the local clergy (often a Christian)

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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