At U.S. Supreme Court hearing, passions flare over religion and its rules

By Reuters Staff
November 7, 2013

(Stephanie Ragusky of Loudoun County, Virginia demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments in the case of Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway, in Washington November 6, 2013.  REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan )

When the U.S. Supreme Court talks about religion, all hell breaks loose.

A dispute over an upstate New York town’s prayer before council meetings produced an unusually testy oral-argument session on Wednesday that recalled the decades of difficulty Supreme Court justices have had drawing the line between church and state.

Court decisions involving freedom of religion tend to be closely decided with many separate opinions rather than clear-cut majority statements. The case of Town of Greece v. Galloway appears to be headed that way.

In the case brought by two Greece residents who objected to the overwhelmingly Christian prayers at meetings, the justices appeared likely to allow legislative prayer to continue but not ready to offer new guidance for when government might have gone too far in favoring, for example, Christianity over other faiths. The more liberal of the nine justices appeared sympathetic to the challenge while the conservatives who control the court’s majority seemed ready to back the town – but not with a single obvious rationale.

At one point during the hour-long session, Justice Stephen Breyer referred to the challenge of setting constitutional rules so people of different religions live “harmoniously together.” Not soon after, Justice Elena Kagan asserted that, “Every time the court gets involved in things like this, it seems to make the problem worse rather than better.”

Read the full story bBy Joan Biskupic here.

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