National U.S. groups send a prayer to the Supreme Court

By Reuters Staff
November 1, 2013

(Tom Lynch delivers a Baha’i prayer before the start of a town board meeting at the Greece Town Hall in Greece, New York August 20, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Fenster)

Bankrolled by powerful outside interests, what began as a dispute aired in the pages of a town’s local newspaper next week moves to the U.S. Supreme Court where justices could potentially roll back legal precedents that limit the role of religion in public life.

The battle pits two residents of an upstate New York town, backed by a civil liberties group advocating for the separation of church and state against a town supervisor supported by a prominent, evangelical Christian organization.

Both groups – Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Alliance Defending Freedom – have multi-million dollar budgets and litigate on a variety of related issues, often against each other.

Linda Stephens, 70, an atheist, and Susan Galloway, 51, who is Jewish, are both long-term residents of the conservative-leaning town of Greece, a Rochester suburb of around 100,000 people located about 300 miles northwest of New York City. They filed a lawsuit in 2008 against the town objecting to the public prayer that precedes town board meetings, claiming it violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition on government establishment of religion.

The Supreme Court has previously said prayers that take place before a state legislative session are acceptable. Galloway and Stephens say the Greece prayers are different. Their lawyers have a series of arguments, including that the intimate nature of a town meeting makes the use of prayers more coercive than in the state legislature context. Residents, who are often active participants at town meetings, “experience substantial pressure to participate in the prayers,” thus leading to a constitutional violation, the lawyers say.

The Supreme Court will hear the case on Wednesday and rule before the term ends in late June.

Read the full story bBy Lawrence Hurley here.

Follow RTRFaithWorld via Twitter Follow all posts on Twitter @ RTRFaithWorld

rss button Follow all posts via RSS

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/