Forty-nine members of Congress this week urged the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of sectarian legislative prayers, saying the practice was vindicated by its "historical background" in the U.S. Congress.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled last year that Greece, New York violated the First Amendment by holding opening prayers at town board meetings that were predominately aligned with the Christian faith. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the overwhelmingly Republican group of lawmakers urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

The brief (PDF), written by the Family Research Council, argued that the Second Circuit’s "deeply flawed" ruling endangered the practice of holding prayers in Congress. Like in the town of Greece, the prayers in Congress are dominated by Christian clergy and Christian messages.

"If the Second Circuit’s rule were correct, then Congress would have been violating the Constitution for more than two centuries," the brief said, noting the long history of legislative prayers in the United States.

"As one factor, the court of appeals below held that an unacceptable proportion of the prayers offered in the Town of Greece were offered by self-identified Christians," it added. "Yet the proportion of Congress’ prayers offered by self-identified Christians is even greater."

The Supreme Court has previously examined the constitutionality of legislative prayer. In the 1983 Marsh v. Chambers decision, the Supreme Court held that officially sponsored legislative prayers were exempted from the First Amendment because of the "unique history" of the practice.

[Preacher via Shutterstock]