US Supreme Court
US Supreme CourtReuters

The US Supreme Court Monday upheld the right to pray at government meetings, in a divided decision which said the practice did not violate religious freedoms.

Voting along ideological lines, the court's five conservative justices said that "the nation's history and tradition have shown that prayer in this limited context could coexist with the principles of disestablishment and religions freedom."

At issue were town meetings in Greece, New York, where clergy had been invited to offer a prayer, which in the last eight years had been exclusively Christian.

Two residents, an atheist and Jewish individual, brought the case before the Supreme Court arguing that the practice was unconstitutional, particularly because it was solely Christian.

The high court's five conservative justices, all Catholic, found their arguments "unpersuasive," while its four progressives -- three Jewish and one Catholic -- voted to end the prayers.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the practice was one "accepted by the framers" of the Constitution.

"There is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief," the decision said.

The prayers may have invoked "the name of Jesus, but they also invoked universal themes, e.g. by calling for a spirit of cooperation," the decision said.

The prayers neither "denigrate, proselytize or betray an impermissible government purpose," it added.

The basis for religious freedoms in the United States is found in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."