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.
US Supreme Court strongly affirms that Americans are free to pray
Alliance Defending Freedom represents town of Greece, NY in pivotal prayer case
“The Supreme Court has again affirmed that Americans are free to pray,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “In America, we tolerate a diversity of opinions and beliefs; we don’t silence people or try to separate what they say from what they believe. Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced. Speech censors should have no power to silence volunteers who pray for their communities just as the Founders did.”
“As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions…,” the court’s opinion states. “That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing references to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition.”
Although the case centers on a New York town’s prayer practice, the court’s decision has ramifications upon other similar cases still in progress in lower courts. ADF attorneys will seek to resolve those cases in light of the decision, and they plan a nationwide campaign to inform governmental bodies at all levels that they are free to include prayer in their public meetings.
“You shouldn’t be forced to forfeit your freedom to appease someone who doesn’t like what you say or believe,” said ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey. “Opponents of prayer want to use government to attack our freedom, but the Constitution established our government to protect our freedom.”
“The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the practice of prayer before legislative bodies is firmly embedded in the history and traditions of this nation,” Hungar added. “In so doing, they have simply reinforced what has been true about America since its founding: Americans should be free to speak and act consistently with their own beliefs.”
ADDITIONAL EXCERPTS FROM THE COURT’S DECISION:
- “The tradition reflected in Marsh [the primary existing Supreme Court precedent regarding prayer before public bodies] permits chaplains to ask their own God for blessings of peace, justice, and freedom that find appreciation among people of all faiths. That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing references to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition.”
- Plaintiffs are asking that federal courts “act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice….”
- “Marsh nowhere suggested that the constitutionality of legislative prayer turns on the neutrality of its content.”
- “Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith.”
- “Respondents argue, in effect, that legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God.”
- “Marsh, indeed, requires an inquiry into the prayer opportunity as a whole, rather than into the contents of a single prayer.”
- “That nearly all of the congregations in town turned out to be Christian does not reflect an aversion or bias on the part of town leaders against minority faiths.”
- Pronunciation guide: Hungar (HUN’-gahr)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
Additional resources: Town of Greece v. Galloway
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Previous news releases:
- 2014-05-05: US Supreme Court affirms that Americans are free to pray
- 2013-11-05: Town of Greece to Supreme Court: Americans should be free to pray
- 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
- Brett Harvey: Debate rages on for lawyers who argued prayer case at Supreme Court (National Law Journal, 2014-05-12)
- Jordan Lorence: Town of Greece decision brings needed common sense to Establishment Clause...and to New York City (National Review, 2014-05-09)
- 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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