2 TOWN OF GREECE
GALLOWAY Syllabus (a) Legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been un-derstood as compatible with the Establishment Clause.
, 463 U. S. 783, 792. In
, the Court concluded that it was not necessary to define the Establishment Clause’s precise boundary in order to uphold Nebraska’s practice of employing a legis-lative chaplain because history supported the conclusion that the specific practice was permitted. The First Congress voted to appointand pay official chaplains shortly after approving language for the First Amendment, and both Houses have maintained the office virtu-ally uninterrupted since then. See
, at 787–789, and n. 10. A ma- jority of the States have also had a consistent practice of legislative prayer.
at 788–790, and n. 11. There is historical precedent forthe practice of opening local legislative meetings with prayer as well.
teaches that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted“by reference to historical practices and understandings.”
County of Allegheny
American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter
, 492 U. S. 573, 670 (opinion of K
, J.). Thus, any testmust acknowledge a practice that was accepted by the Framers andhas withstood the critical scrutiny of time and political change. The Court’s inquiry, then, must be to determine whether the prayer prac-tice in the town of Greece fits within the tradition long followed in Congress and the state legislatures. Pp. 6–9.(b) Respondents’ insistence on nonsectarian prayer is not con-sistent with this tradition. The prayers in
were consistent with the First Amendment not because they espoused only a generic theism but because the Nation’s history and tradition have shownthat prayer in this limited context could “coexis[t] with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.” 463 U. S., at 786. Dic-tum in
County of Allegheny
permitted only prayer with no overtly Christian references is irreconcilable with the facts, holding, and reasoning of
, which instructed that the “content of the prayer is not of concern to judges,” provided “there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to prose-lytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.”463 U. S., at 794–795. To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts decid-ing these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, thus involving government in religious matters to a far greater de-gree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither ed-iting nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact. Respondents’ contrary arguments are unpersuasive.It is doubtful that consensus could be reached as to what qualifies asa generic or nonsectarian prayer. It would also be unwise to conclude that only those religious words acceptable to the majority are permis-