Town of Greece v. GallowayTo book an interview, click on the "Book an Interview" button on any page at ADFmedia.org.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Description: In 2008, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the town of Greece on behalf of local residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, who claim that continued Christian prayer at the opening of town meetings is unconstitutional. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the town argue that the practice of deliberative bodies to invoke divine guidance and blessings upon their work has always been constitutional.
Issue presented in U.S. Supreme Court petition for review: Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that a legislative prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause notwithstanding the absence of discrimination in the selection of prayer-givers or forbidden exploitation of the prayer opportunity.
Prayer will be heard on highUS Supreme Court to weigh in on prayers presented before public meetings
Monday, May 20, 2013
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys together with lead counsel Thomas G. Hungar of the Washington, D.C. law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP represent the town of Greece, N.Y.
“Americans today should be as free as the Founders were to pray,” said Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The Founders prayed while drafting our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has ruled that public prayer is part of the ‘history and tradition of this country.’ America continues this cherished practice.”
As briefs filed in the case explain, the U.S. Supreme Court settled the matter 30 years ago by affirming that the historical practice of legislative prayers is constitutional. Until relatively recently, the lower federal courts faithfully implemented that well-established rule of law. New legal attacks by individuals and activist groups claiming to be offended by the way private citizens voluntarily pray have created significant confusion in the lower courts.
In this case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit suggested that the current legal complexity may cause local and state governments to abandon the practice of legislative prayer, which predates the founding of America and existed for more than two centuries without serious challenge.
“We appreciate the Supreme Court’s decision to review the important question presented by this case,” explained Hungar. “The practice of legislative prayer is firmly embedded in the history and traditions of this nation. We hope the court will reaffirm the settled understanding that such prayers, offered without improper motive and in accordance with the conscience of the prayer-giver, are constitutional.”
“A few people should not be able to extinguish the traditions of our nation merely because they heard something they didn’t like,” added Senior Counsel Brett Harvey. “Because the authors of the Constitution invoked God’s blessing on public proceedings, this tradition shouldn’t suddenly be deemed unconstitutional. It’s perfectly constitutional to allow community members to ask for God’s blessing according to their conscience.”
- Pronunciation guide: Hungar (HUNG’-ahr)
Additional resources: Town of Greece v. GallowayScroll down to view additional resources pertaining to this case and its surrounding issue
Monday, May 20, 2013
Previous news releases:
- 2013-01-08: New support uplifts NY town’s prayer policy
- 2012-12-10: US Supreme Court asked to weigh in on strange ruling against NY town’s prayer policy
- 2012-05-17: ADF to appeal strange ruling against NY town’s prayer policy
- 2011-09-09: Will 2nd Circuit uphold right of NY town to allow prayer before public meetings?
- 2010-08-06: Court rules NY town can open public meetings with prayer
- 2009-08-12: ADF attorney available to media after hearing over NY town’s right to open meetings with prayer
- 2008-03-26: ADF defends NY town’s right to open meetings with prayer
- Brett Harvey: The foresight of Justice Kennedy (Townhall.com, 2013-03-16)
- Brett Harvey & Joel Oster: Who said that?: A simple question that may change the way courts view legislative prayer (Engage, Federalist Society, 2013-02)
- Resource page for Marsh v. Chambers, prayer case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983
"It can hardly be thought that, in the same week Members of the First Congress voted to appoint and to pay a chaplain for each House and also voted to approve the draft of the First Amendment for submission to the states, they intended the Establishment Clause of the Amendment to forbid what they had just declared acceptable.... Clearly the men who wrote the First Amendment Religion Clauses did not view paid legislative chaplains and opening prayers as a violation of that Amendment, for the practice of opening sessions with prayer has continued without interruption ever since that early session of Congress.... This unique history leads us to accept the interpretation of the First Amendment draftsmen who saw no real threat to the Establishment Clause arising from a practice of prayer similar to that now challenged...." - Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 789-92 (1983)
The case involved the prayer of Nebraska Legislature Chaplain Rev. Dr. Robert E. Palmer. Palmer filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Town of Greece v. Galloway asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and rule in favor of the town:
"When this Court decided Marsh v. Chambers, there was no doubt that the prayers being challenged were often 'explicitly Christian.' 463 U.S. at 793 n.14. The record before the Court was replete with Christian prayers, and dissenting justices regarded that as reason enough to strike down Nebraska’s practice. But the Court refused. In full knowledge of his prayers’ religious content, the Court credited Rev. Palmer’s deposition statement that they were 'nonsectarian'—a term understood in context to mean that the prayers did not advance a particular sect within the Judeo-Christian tradition (such as Rev. Palmer’s own Presbyterianism)."
- James Madison's proclamations recommending a day of prayer: July 9, 1812 and July 23, 1813
- The first prayer for the Continental Congress, Sept. 7, 1774
- Image: Painting of the first prayer for the Continental Congress
Legislative prayer cases and legal matters nationwide (map):
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