High Court Takes up Challenge to Prayer at Government Meetings

By:  Dave Bohon
High Court Takes up Challenge to Prayer at Government Meetings

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case November 6 challenging prayer uttered during local government meetings, and conservative Christian leaders say the High Court's ruling could have a far-reaching impact on religious expression in America.

In 2007 the atheist group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sued the community of Greece, New York, on behalf of two residents over the city's tradition of offering mostly Christian prayers at the beginning of its regular government meetings. From 1999 to 2007, reported The New American, “every monthly government meeting in Greece was opened with a Christian invocation. But in 2007 two city residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, complained about the trend, prompting the town to invite a Wiccan priest, a Baha’i representative, and a Jewish man to offer the prayers. Nonetheless, at eight of the 12 meetings Christians offered the invocation.”

In the original suit a judge ruled in favor of the city, finding that it had not intentionally excluded non-Christian faiths in prayers at government meetings. But in May 2012, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned the lower court ruling, finding that the process city officials used for selecting clergy for the monthly prayers effectively ensured that the prayers would be Christian. The court ruled that although a majority of the congregations in Greece were Christian, the city could have found a way to include non-Christian invocations.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the conservative legal advocacy group which represented the community of Greece in the case, appealed the ruling and in May of this year the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. On November 6 the justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case, the first time the High Court has considered a government prayer case since 1983, when it ruled that an opening prayer at government meetings is part of the nation's fabric and not a violation of the First Amendment.

“Community members should have the freedom to pray without being censored,” commented ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “Opening meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution practiced. Americans shouldn’t be forced to forfeit this freedom just to appease someone who claims to be offended by hearing a prayer.”

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