Supreme Court to hear public prayer case

Religious Liberty
by Emily Belz
Posted 5/20/13, 01:30 pm

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case during its next term about whether a town that opened its public meetings with prayer violated the Constitution.

For over a decade, the town of Greece, N.Y., has opened its public meetings with prayer, almost always from Christian clergy. The town has said leaders from any faith may offer prayer at the meetings, but until recently leaders from other faiths had not participated. Most houses of faith within the town borders are Christian churches. Two non-Christian women sued, saying the prayers violated the Constitution's Establishment Clause. 

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the women, ruling the prayers unconstitutional and saying that the town should have sought more religious diversity in those who offered the opening prayers. (Read the  ruling.) That decision potentially conflicts with a previous Supreme Court ruling, which may be why the court decided to hear the case. 

In 1983, the Supreme Court said that prayer at public meetings was constitutional, in general. Since then, courts in different parts of the country have ruled on specific guidelines for what prayers are constitutional—some states are allowed to use the word “God” in prayers before public meetings, but not the word “Jesus.” The high court may try to resolve some of the conflicting guidelines across the country.

The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.

Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine based in New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

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