SJ Quinney College of Law, University of Utah


The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . .”1 There is a great deal of confusion among scholars, lower federal courts, and the Justices of the Supreme Court over appropriate Establishment Clause principles,2 but it is at least clear that the government “may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in a way which establishes a state religion or religious faith, or tends to do so.”3 It has long been settled that state and local legislative bodies may, in harmony with the Establishment Clause, open meetings with prayers given by state-employed or volunteer clergy.4 Less clear is whether legislators themselves may (1) offer prayers in local government meetings, and (2) restrict the opportunity to give prayers to themselves. This Note reviews the history of legislative prayer in the United States and the Supreme Court’s decisions about clergy-led prayer practices, provides an overview of the current circuit-split on the issue of legislator-led prayer, argues that legislator-led prayer cannot be upheld under the same analysis used to allow clergy-led prayer, and proposes options for resolving the split.