Town of Greece v. Galloway
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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.
Town of Greece to Supreme Court: Americans should be free to pray
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys available to media following oral arguments at U.S. Supreme Court
WHAT: Available to media following Supreme Court oral arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 6, immediately following hearing, which begins at 10 a.m. EDT
WHERE: Outside U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First St. NE, Washington
Town of Greece legal defense team (L to R): Alex Gesch, Joel Oster, Sean Sandoloski, Thomas Hungar, Brett Harvey, Derek Lyons, David Cortman, Jordan Lorence, and Thomas Johnson
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“Community members should have the freedom to pray without being censored,” said Senior Counsel David Cortman. “Opening meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution practiced. Americans shouldn’t be forced to forfeit this freedom just to appease someone who claims to be offended by hearing a prayer.”
On May 20, the high court agreed to hear the case, which centers on a New York town’s prayer practice, but the court potentially could use the case as a means to clarify or reinforce constitutional standards on a wide array of Establishment Clause and religious freedom cases. 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.
In August, the Supreme Court received 26 friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the freedom of Americans to pray as the nation’s founders did before public meetings. The briefs included support from the U.S. Department of Justice, attorneys general representing half the states in the union, numerous senators and members of Congress, and a wide array of constitutional scholars, theologians, counties and municipalities, religious liberty groups, and others. The court last affirmed America’s long-standing practice of opening public meetings with prayer in 1983 and now has the opportunity to do so again.
“The Supreme Court has already ruled that prayer is an unbroken American tradition that is perfectly constitutional,” said Senior Counsel Brett Harvey. “Nothing has changed, so we expect the court will wish to uphold this truth.”
- Fact sheet: Town of Greece v. Galloway
- Video news release: Town of Greece v. Galloway
- Pronunciation guide: Hungar (HUNG’-ahr)
Additional resources: Town of Greece v. Galloway
Scroll down to view additional resources pertaining to this case and its surrounding issue
Previous news releases:
- 2013-08-05: Broad support for prayer reflected in numerous briefs at Supreme Court
- 2013-05-20: Prayer will be heard on high
- 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
- Alan Sears & Joseph Infranco: Founders’ view of prayer should prevail at Supreme Court (Washington Post, 2013-11-05)
- Brett Harvey: Prayer at government meetings (Orange County Register, 2013-10-18)
- 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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