The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear and decide several contentious cases, including matters related to public prayers at government meetings and states' right to restrict access to abortion, as it begins a new session on Monday after a summer break.
One of the cases, Town of Greece v. Galloway, deals with the question whether the public prayer held before a town meeting violates the First Amendment guarantee of separation of church and state.
The verdict in the case – oral arguments of which are scheduled for Nov. 6, according to Reuters – could greatly change the future of public religious expression in the nation.
"I don't think you should have to endure religious indoctrination in order to participate in your own town government," Linda Stephens, one of the challengers in the case concerning prayers held at Greece, N.Y., government meetings, tells NBC.
Town Supervisor John Auberger disagrees. "We have a rich tradition, back to our founding fathers, of opening legislative meetings with a prayer," he is quoted as saying.
The challengers, Stephens and Susan Galloway, argued that most prayers held at Greece government meetings from 1999 to 2010 were delivered by Christian clergy, and therefore the city was endorsing the religion.
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York previously ruled that the prayer was unconstitutional because although the town did technically allow anyone, of any denomination, to volunteer to give a prayer, it "neither publicly solicited volunteers to invocation nor informed members of the general public that volunteers would be considered or accepted."
However, Joel Oster, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Greece in the court at the time, told The Christian Post earlier that the decision contradicted past Supreme Court rulings on the matter. "The U.S. Supreme Court already upheld the practice of prayers before deliberative bodies," he said. "This opinion by the Second Circuit effectively undermines the Supreme Court's opinion and places several roadblocks and obstacles for a town to permit legislative prayers."
The Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that the Nebraska state legislature was within its constitutional right in opening its sessions with a prayer from a Christian minister paid to act as the official chaplain. However, the court has also held that governments cannot appear to endorse a particular religious view.
The court is also expected to take up two cases concerning abortion.
One of them is McCullen v. Coakley, in which the court will deal with the question whether a Massachusetts law that ensures access for patients at clinics that offer abortions violates the free speech rights of protesters.
The other case, Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice on whether states may limit the use of abortion-inducing drugs, has been referred to the Oklahoma Supreme Court for a clarification, according to The New York Times.
The court is also likely to hold hearings in cases concerning President Obama's health care law, or "Obamacare," which forces employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
The court hearings and decisions in this new term are expected to hit headlines in the coming months. As Kannon Shanmugam, a lawyer with Williams & Connolly, tells NBC, "This is the year of the sequel."