Opinion 15-79

April 23, 2015


Digest:         A judge may publicly participate in a non-fund-raising National Day of Prayer event, lead a prayer, and be identified as a judge.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i)-(ii), (iv); Opinions 15-92(A); 14-193; 12-135; 08-20; 07-213; 03-129; 98-140; 88-13; 88-06.


         A full-time judge asks if he/she may participate in a particular religion’s National Day of Prayer event, involving no fund-raising. Participants may lead a three-minute prayer on behalf of “all people” and/or “those in authority,” and the event organizers encourage participants to focus on requesting all to “lead peaceful, godly, dignified lives” and be saved by coming to “knowledge of the Truth.” The event will be broadcast on a religious radio network. The judge asks if he/she may attend, lead a prayer, and be identified publicly by name and judicial position.

         A judge must avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Although judges are generally prohibited from personal participation in fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]-[ii]) and must not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][iv]), a judge may otherwise generally engage in extra-judicial activities not incompatible with judicial office and do not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge, (2) detract from judicial office’s dignity, or (3) interfere with the proper conduct of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]).

         The Committee has advised a judge may participate in a wide variety of religious activities, including evangelism or other public outreach, subject to certain limitations. For example, a judge may preach and allow his/her sermons to be broadcast via live streaming on the internet, so long as he/she does not solicit tithes or contributions (see Opinion 15-92[A]); may chair the regional chapter of a national religious “crusade,” so long as he/she does not solicit funds or allow his/her name to solicit funds (see Opinion 88-06); may serve as director of a non-denominational religious organization organized “to support and encourage ministers and ministries” of a particular faith (Opinion 98-140); and may participate in a church-sponsored mission to Africa, so long as the judge does not personally participate in fund-raising or lend the prestige of judicial office to such fund-raising efforts (see Opinion 08-20). The Committee has further advised that a judge may serve as master of ceremonies at a non-fund-raising breakfast or dinner sponsored by a religious organization (see Opinions 03-129; 88-13) and be honored and installed as a religious institution’s leader during a non-fund-raising dinner-dance, including through executive or legislative branch proclamations or resolutions (see Opinion 14-193).

         The inquiring judge may likewise participate and lead a prayer at a non-fund-raising National Prayer Day event which will be broadcast on the radio (see e.g. Opinions 15-92[A]; 14-193; 08-20; 03-129; 98-140; 88-13; 88-06) and may be publicly identified as a judge (see Opinions 12-135 [judge who is permissibly participating in a religious institution’s mission trip “need not conceal his/her identity as a judge”]; 07-213 [a judge’s car may simultaneously display an emblem for a religious organization and a license plate that identifies the judge as a member of a judges’ organization]).