Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that a town in upstate New York did not violate the First Amendment by beginning town board meetings with prayer. I applaud the Court’s decision.
Our nation has a long, vibrant history of incorporating prayer into its legislative proceedings. We start each day in the U.S. Senate with a prayer — and that’s a good thing. It’s important for senators to be reminded of the nobility of their work and to seek the guidance of the Almighty.
In Congress, lawmakers have started their proceedings with a prayer since America’s earliest days. Legislators in both the House and Senate of the Kentucky General Assembly also begin their daily proceedings with prayer, as do dozens of state legislatures across the country.
Some on the far left mistakenly believe the First Amendment exists to insulate them from any contact or mention of faith. I’m glad the Court did not agree with that view, which was clearly not shared by those who set the template for our government more than two centuries ago.
As a longtime defender and proponent of the First Amendment—whether it involves free speech, campaign finance, media freedoms, or our sacrosanct religious freedoms—I joined 33 of my Senate colleagues in both parties to file a “friend of the court” brief led by Sen. Marco Rubio.
Our brief sought to urge the Supreme Court to eliminate any uncertainty and affirm the strong constitutional footing upon which legislative prayer stands. In a nation of broad religious diversity, we argued, the best means of ensuring that the government does not show a preference for any particular religious view in the context of legislative prayer is to allow all those who pray to do so in accordance with their own consciences and in the language of their own faith.
When we read the First Amendment, we must realize that the Framers did not intend our Constitution it to be used as a barrier to religion. On the contrary, they saw faith as having a vital role in society. In fact, members of the first Congress who penned and passed the First Amendment—including James Madison and James Monroe—also appointed Congressional chaplains, who have prayed for and ministered to members of Congress ever since.
To read the First Amendment as preventing a simple opening prayer is to misread our history. Americans have never understood their faith to be something that can only be exercised in hushed tones in private. From the abolitionist movement, to the temperance movement, to the civil rights movement, religion has been at the foreground of public debate throughout our nation’s history.
We should all be pleased that the Court has reaffirmed the constitutional footing of this long American tradition. Just last week, in fact, I was proud to invite Pastor Trevor Barton of London, Kentucky, to have the honor of offering an opening prayer on the Senate floor. Let’s pray the Court continues to recognize the important role our Founders placed on religion in our society and on the rightful place of prayer in our proceedings.
Mitch McConnell is a U.S. Senator representing Kentucky.