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Justices Appear Wary Of Regulating Legislative Prayer

Publication Date: 
November 06, 2013
USA Today - WBIR
Richard Wolf

Stanford Law Professor Michael McConnell is quoted in USA Today regarding possible Supreme Court responses to a case regarding prayer in local government meetings.

The Supreme Court struggled Wednesday to endorse the centuries-old tradition of prayer at government meetings in the face of increased secular sensitivity.

After listening to their court marshal intone, "God save the United States and this honorable court," the justices tried to justify a New York town's practice of having mostly Christian clergy deliver sometimes strikingly sectarian prayers.


Since Marsh, backers of church-state separation have made modest gains. In 1984, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's "endorsement test" established that every government practice must be judged to determine whether it endorses one religion. In 1989, the court ruled that a Christmas crèche display on a courthouse staircase went too far by endorsing Christianity and brought forth O'Connor's "reasonable observer" test. O'Connor was in court for Wednesday's arguments.


If the town and others like it are forced to censor the prayers, "then we really are going to have an approved list of prayers," says Michael McConnell, a former federal appeals court judge who directs the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School.