Chambers was a member of the Nebraska state legislature who objected to its chaplaincy
policy. The clergyman who opened each session with a prayer was paid by public funds.
The District Court objected to the use of public money to pay the preacher’s salary
while the Appellate Court objected to the prayer being offered.
By a 6-3 vote the Supreme Court permitted the practice of beginning the legislative
session with a prayer given by the publicly funded chaplain.
Majority Opinion: (Chief Justice Burger)|
The use of prayer is embedded in the nation’s history and tradition. That the practice of
the Nebraska legislature is consistent with the framers’ intent is proven by their use
of chaplains. Additionally, the Supreme Court and Congress have traditionally begun
their sessions with prayers. Individual states do not have to abide by more stringent
First Amendment limits than the federal government. The “Establishment Clause does not
always bar a state from regulating conduct simply because it harmonizes with religious
concerns.” Because of the principles upon which the nation has developed, religion has
become part of the fabric of society. The offering of the prayer is a “tolerable
acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country.” The public
payment of the chaplain is historically allowable because it was done by the Continental
Congress years earlier. The pervasiveness of involving prayer with governmental
activity without adverse effect has shown that there is no real threat from continuing
The Court placed a heavy reliance on looking to history and the intent of the framers in
reaching this decision. Because the practice had been done for many years, it had
become a communication of shared values rather than a decidedly religious practice.
of Oral Argument|
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