Content Regulation / Censorship, Religious Expression
Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria
Closed Mixed Outcome
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The prayer practices of the town of Greece, New York were upheld by the Supreme Court because they were inclusive of all religions wishing to participate, administered by volunteers, and were not unduly coercive.
The town of Greece opened its town’s board meetings with a prayer. This practice typically featured Christian prayers, however, other faith based prayers were also offered (Jewish, Baha’i, Wiccan, etc.). The local residents brought a suit against the board and town arguing that these prayers violated the First Amendment.
Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion of the United States Supreme Court. The issue before the Court was “whether the town of Greece…imposes an impermissible establishment of religion by opening its monthly board meetings with a prayer.” The Court held that there was no violation of the constitution in this case.
The residents of the town argued that the prayers often included “sectarian language or themes” and that they “created social pressures that force[d] non-adherents to remain in the room.”
However, the Court found that the prayers did not violate the constitution because there is a tradition of legislative prayers which is permissible, see Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983). Furthermore, such prayers are allowed as long as they have a nondiscrimination policy regarding the types of traditions that are allowed to provide the prayer. Thus, because the board’s prayers were nondiscriminatory regarding who offered the prayer and because there is a historical practice of allowing for legislative prayers, the Court found that no violation had taken place.
A dissenting opinion was written by Justice Breyer. That opinion argued that while the constitution does not forbid legislative prayer, the town of Greece’s practices violated the constitution because they “had not followed a sufficiently inclusive ‘prayer-giver selection process.’” Thus, “the town of Greece failed to make reasonable efforts to include prayer givers of minority faiths, and with the result that, although it is a community of several faiths, its prayer givers were almost elusively persons of a single faith.”
A second dissenting opinion was written by Justice Kagan. In it she emphasized that the town’s “meetings involve participation by ordinary citizen and the invocations given—directly to those citizens—were predominantly sectarian in content…[and] Greece’s Board did nothing to recognize religious diversity: In arranging for clergy members to open each meeting, the Town never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve , accommodate, or in any way reach out to the adherents of non-Christian religions.”
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case provides a mixed outcome, and was a very close decision by the Supreme Court. While it upholds the right to speak about religion, it also upholds the seemingly state endorsement of religion (as emphasized by the dissents).
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
This is a decision of the United States Supreme Court, the highest Court in the United States and binds all lower courts.
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