- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley welcomed a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Monday that says prayers that open town council meetings don’t violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity.

Jackley last year joined 23 states in a “friend of the court” brief filed with the court saying that the U.S. Constitution allows for prayer during governmental meetings and legislative sessions. The court said in its 5-4 decision that the content of the prayers is not critical as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion.

“The framers of our South Dakota Constitution opened their sessions with a prayer in 1883, and our highest court has held today that this practice may continue with our legislature and other governmental bodies,” Jackley said in a written statement.

The ruling was a victory for the town of Greece, New York, outside of Rochester.

In 1983, the court upheld an opening prayer in the Nebraska Legislature and said prayer is part of the nation’s fabric, not a violation of the First Amendment. Monday’s ruling was consistent with the earlier one.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation’s traditions.

“The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers,” Kennedy said.

Justice Elena Kagan, in a dissent for the court’s four liberal justices, said the case differs significantly from the 1983 decision because “Greece’s town meetings involve participation by ordinary citizens, and the invocations given - directly to those citizens - were predominantly sectarian in content.”

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The case is Greece v. Galloway, 12-696

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