Does the Supreme Court’s holding in Marsh mean that any plan for providing a legislature with a chaplain paid with public funds will be constitutional?

Not necessarily. The Court’s holding was based on the fact that Nebraska’s practice did not seem likely to lead to an “establishment of religion.” Given a different set of facts, a majority of the justices might well have discerned such an unconstitutional establishment. For instance, courts are stricter in their application of the establishment clause when it comes to public schools, or other arenas where the government has the opportunity to influence a captive audience of impressionable youngsters. What seems clear from Marsh is that the Court is willing to defer to traditional practices that bear a religious element as long as they do not appear to coerce the unwilling or the highly impressionable into some form of religious participation or belief. The Marsh reliance on tradition and a failure to prove any establishing tendency could make a huge difference if the Supreme Court decides to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the national motto (“In God We Trust”), or the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Category: Freedom of Religion