Supreme Court Will Re-Examine Prayer at Government Meetings
Update (Aug. 5): The small New York town at the center of the Supreme Court's first case in decades to address government prayer has two new allies.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has urged the court to uphold the Town of Greece's prayer policy. The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission likewise wants to "prevent judges from becoming theological referees."
Becket, which thinks the case could "mark major change in church-state law," notes:
In Town of Greece v. Galloway, which will be heard and decided in October, the Court will address the constitutionality of legislative prayers for the first time in decades. In recent years appellate courts have split over the correct interpretation of the Establishment Clause. Town of Greece could be an opportunity for the Supreme Court to clarify interpretation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause for the lower courts.
The case (previously noted by CT) comes from Greece, New York, where the town council starts most of its meetings with a Christian prayer. Although "members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer," the majority of chaplains are Christian, notes The New York Times. The case asks the Supreme Court to decide whether or not the legislative prayers violate the First Amendment's separation of church and state.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the town in the case, says a previous, 30-year-old ruling still stands, settling the matter.
The Supreme Court previously ruled on this particular issue in Nebraska in 1983, reports the Associated Press. That decision found "that legislative meetings that open with a prayer do not violate the First Amendment's prohibition of government-established religion as long as they do not advance a single faith."
After two residents sued the town, a district court judge said the council did not intentionally exclude members of any faith. But the three-judge panel for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously disagreed, saying "the town's habit of inviting clergy from only churches in Greece could be construed as government endorsement of a particular religion. Houses of worship in Greece are almost exclusively Christian."
CT reported at the time that the Second Circuit said in its decision that "the town should have tried harder to find non-Christian speakers–even if that required recruiting beyond the town's borders."
The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the case during its October session.