Government-sponsored prayer violates a cardinal rule of the Establishment Clause: The government must remain neutral on matters of faith. When the government breaches this fundamental principle by promoting prayer, it unfairly pressures people to adopt the favored beliefs, devalues those beliefs by co-opting them for official, unsacred purposes, and is a recipe for religious conflict.  

The First Amendment undoubtedly guarantees to individuals and faith communities throughout the country a vital, fundamental right to religious belief, worship, and expression. But free religious exercise has “never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its belief.” Accordingly, government-sponsored official prayer is generally off-limits in our constitutional system.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has permitted official prayer in one limited setting—the meetings of legislative bodies, such as town boards and state legislatures—even there the Court has made clear that there are limits. Legislative invocations may not “denigrate non-believers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion,” and they must remain consistent with the purported purpose of such invocations—to solemnize and lend gravity to the occasion. The ACLU works to ensure that the government does not overstep these current legal boundaries.

Stay Informed