MOST Americans have definitive views about where faith fits into their lives. A recent Gallup Poll found that 58 percent of Americans say religion is very important to them. Another 23 percent say it's somewhat important.
But when it comes to the intersection of religion and government, not even learned jurists are certain of the boundaries.
Today, the United States Supreme Court wades back into the controversy with oral arguments in Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway.
Since 1999, the Greece Town Board has started its meetings with a prayer. Two town residents sued, claiming the prayers, which are most often Christian, are unconstitutional.
Over the years, courts at all levels have produced a mishmash of decisions attempting to guard the Constitutional right to free exercise of religion without the government's endorsement of a particular religion.
The high court's decision to reenter the debate means reopening Marsh v. Chambers. That 1983 decision upheld the Nebraska Legislature's practice of opening each session with a prayer. "The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country," the court ruled.
In Marsh, the court said that the Founders authorized the appointment of paid chaplains to lead Congress in prayer even as they were reaching final agreement on the Bill of Rights.
The Marsh decision provided a pathway for many traditional religious expressions at government functions to continue.