The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on a case that takes up the role of prayer in a public setting, specifically opening prayers at town meetings. Given the current makeup of the court, it is nearly impossible to predict the outcome.
For the first time in nearly 30 years, the High Court will examine the issue of religious liberty, and when you think about it, that is a rather frightening idea. The case comes from the town of Greece, New York. Like many towns all across America, it was common practice to open the town meetings with prayer.
The policy that allowed for prayer was completely inclusive, allowing representatives from any and all faiths. But not surprisingly, Christian prayers were the most popular, as evidenced by the fact that out of 127 invocations, only four were offered by non-Christian groups.
Enter Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens who decided that the prayers made them feel excluded so they contacted Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who filed suit against the town.
The two plaintiffs won at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals level but Alliance Defending Freedom, representing the city, asked the Supreme Court to take the case, and they did. Not since Marsh v. Chambers, in 1983, has the High Court ruled on the subject of prayer in a public setting. In that case, they upheld the constitutionality of legislative prayers.
Americans United is heralding the fact that 12 members of Congress signed on to a brief upholding the position that these prayers are wrong. In the brief, they stated:
"The Greece Town Board is not a purely legislative body, however, and its citizens do not observe its proceedings in a purely passive capacity. Rather, the Board makes quasi-adjudicatory decisions regarding the property rights of individual citizens appearing before it (e.g., by granting or denying business licenses and zoning permits) and the citizens advocate their views directly to the Board on legislative issues. Private citizens are therefore active participants in Board meetings."
This tortured reasoning shouldn't sway the High Court, considering that both Houses of Congress begin each daily session with prayer. Even the Department of Justice correctly noted, "Throughout its history, and dating back to the first session of the Continental Congress in 1774, the United States Congress has appointed chaplains to open each legislative day with a prayer." It must trouble Americans United that the current administration is supporting the town of Greece.
The town invited a Wiccan priestess, a Jewish man, and a Baha'i to offer the invocation but the majority who accepted the invitation to prayer was Christians. The town was responsible for the invitation, which was completely inclusive, not who accepted the request to offer the invocation.
While Americans United celebrates the 12 Congressmen who signed onto their brief, they fail to acknowledge the 85 members of Congress who signed a brief supporting the prayers being said at the town meetings.
The decision from the Supreme Court probably won't come down until June of next year. Let's pray the High Court does the right thing – and keeps the First Amendment fully intact.