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Monday, November 4, 2013

Separation of Church and State Case Goes to Supreme Court

Greece, N.Y. Residents Argue Opening Prayer is Unconstitutional For the first time in 30 years, the United States Supreme Court will rule on a case that could create a momentous shift in legislation that separates church and state.

Susan Galloway Town Hall  
 Susan Galloway is pictured at the Town Hall in Greece, New York August 20, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)

The federal court will meet on Wednesday to discuss an appeal of a lower court decision that deemed opening prayers said before town council meetings in Greece, N.Y. an unlawful crossing of church-state separation lines.

Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, two city officials in the suburb of Rochester, first filed a lawsuit supported by Americans United for Separation of Church and State in 2012, when they won a ruling from the U.S. court of appeals, according to the Los Angeles Times.

They argued that Christian-centric prayers spoken before city meetings breached legislation specifically outlined in the Constitution. But when they questioned the methods of the town council proceedings to their fellow members, they were told to "leave the room or just not listen," Galloway told the LA Times.
"We felt like outcasts," she said. "We are not Christians, but we wanted to be at the meetings. When the minister was at the podium, it felt like a pulpit."

City officials in Greece have started their monthly board meetings with a prayer led by a Christian pastor in the town for more than seven years. At times, the councilmembers assembled there stood and bowed their heads during the prayer.
For Galloway and Stephens, this act was out of line - and the court of appeals agreed. Last year, New York judges ruled that government-backed prayers that advocated a certain religion violated the Constitution.
"We conclude, on the record before us, that the town's prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint," Judge Guido Calabresi wrote.

In the past, the court has maintained such opening prayers as "God save the United States and this honorable court." This will be the first case to thrust prayer within government walls into the spotlight since 1983, when justices ruled that worship was an integral part of the nation, and public meetings that began with religious invocations didn't violate the First Amendment.

But now, Greece vs. Galloway has put church-state separation back under the microscope. Religious conservatives who back the traditional use of prayer are pushing the court to rule that cities, counties and public schools are allowed to favor a certain religion, as long as people can opt out of a religious activity. This would allow prayers at public school events and religious symbols to be present at government buildings, such as the Nativity scene.

Supporters of separation of church and state have maintained that this "anything-goes" outlook would allow local members of government to use official meetings as venues to promote religious messages.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday, and is slated to deliver a ruling by June 2014.



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