Several Jewish organizations condemned this week’s Supreme Court decision that allows local governments to begin their meetings with a religious prayer as long as no one is coerced into participating.
“An individual’s belief — or non-belief — ought not be a prerequisite to accessing the political process,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The ruling “undermines the fundamental American principle of equal participation in government, regardless of the faith of the individual.”
In the case, The Town of Greece v. Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, the justices decided by a 5-4 vote that a town can begin its meetings with religious prayers, even when those prayers consistently favor one religion. That New York town subjected those in attendance to mostly Christian prayer, according to the two women who filed the suit.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said the ruling eroded the Bill of Rights. “We are concerned that this could mark a turn toward more religion in the public arena, which could discourage the participation of minority groups,” noted JCPA chair Susan Turnbull.
The National Council of Jewish Women said the ruling was a step back for religious freedom. “This ruling leaves us deeply concerned for the fate of the principle of separation of religion and state in the next court case that will surely come,” said CEO Nancy Kaufman.
However, the Orthodox Union saw a bright side to the ruling, applauding the Court’s perspective “that religion has a place in America’s public square” but that government “should be mindful of our pluralism.”