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Supreme Court: Prayer deemed constitutional in government meetings

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TYLER (KYTX) - By a narrow margin, the Supreme Court decided Monday to uphold the tradition of praying before government meetings. The decision was a few years in the making, starting when two women from a small New York town sued city officials, calling prayers at government functions unconstitutional.

CBS 19's Katiera Winfrey spoke to community members and explains how this decision impacts east Texans.

This case centers around the first amendment: separation of church and state. The question: does praying at government meetings like city hall or county meetings promote a particular religion?

In a four to five vote the Supreme Court decided it doesn't.

While most agree with the tradition of prayer, should there be stipulations?

Saying a prayer at city hall and county meetings across the country, has become tradition.

"The fact is members of the court are Christian so the prayers we have said ourselves have had a christian meaning," said Smith County Judge Joel Baker.

Opponents said that's their concern -- that Christianity is favored at government meetings. That's what led two women in Greece, New York to file suit against the city for violating the first amendment of the constitution: separation of church and state.

Justices ruled prayer at these meetings is just part of tradition -- and should stand as long as it doesn't threaten condemnation or promote conversion.

"We've made our peace that we're in Christian east Texas," said Congregation Beth El Rabbi Neal Katz.

He understands tradition, but he thinks prayer at government functions could be more all-inclusive.

"I think the issue is asking that the people who are doing prayer with an understanding that they may be doing so for people who aren't Christians," said Katz.

Judge Baker said, the intention of city offices isn't to promote one religion over the other.

"That's not to say we couldn't have another religion opening the session," he said.

He believes ultimately, the supreme court decision upholds one crucial value of freedom of speech.

"Even for those who are not Christian it supports all of our freedoms and that's an important thing to remember," said Baker.

The four other justices who voted against this say the decision alienates other religious groups. They said the decision could show favoritism to one religion --and in turn violate the constitution's first amendment... Separation of church and state.

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