Court: City Didn't Try Hard Enough To Find Non-Christian Prayers
In its first case addressing legislative prayer, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a New York town board's tradition of opening monthly meetings with prayer is unconstitutional because the town should have tried harder to find non-Christian speakers–even if that required recruiting beyond the town's borders.
The Town of Greece has opened board meetings with prayer since 1999. Two residents challenged the practice in 2008 because all the prayers had been offered by Christians. The town then had representatives of Judaism, Wicca, and the Baha'i faith offer prayers, but the residents filed suit once the prayers reverted to Christian-only in 2009 and 2010.
A lower court sided with the town, but three Second Circuit judges reversed its ruling, concluding "an objective, reasonable person would believe that the town's prayer practice had the effect of affiliating the town with Christianity." Not because the prayers were sectarian per se; but because the town's "process for selecting prayer-givers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint" because the town didn't actively solicit non-Christian speakers or – given that the town has no non-Christian congregations within it – go beyond its borders to recruit them.