NY Town Awaiting Supreme Court Decision on Prayers Continues to Pray Before Meetings

A town in New York that is awaiting a decision from the United States Supreme Court on the constitutionality of prayers held during its town meetings continues to observe the practice.

Town of Greece, a community whose prayer policy for meetings sparked a major church-state lawsuit, opened their latest monthly meeting with a prayer.

"Leaders of this town of 96,000 outside Rochester say they have no plans to shake up the longtime routine unless, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court orders them to," reported The Associated Press.

"A ruling could come any day now on whether the town violated the Constitution with its opening prayers because nearly every one in an 11-year span was overtly Christian."

For last month's town meeting, the Greece Town Board featured the Rev. Mike Metzger of First Bible Baptist Church, who included in his invocation the phrase "in Jesus' name, we pray."

In 2008, Greece was sued by two residents who took issue with their prayer policy of inviting local clergy to give sectarian invocation prayers before meetings began.

Known as Galloway v. Town of Greece, the two plaintiffs were represented by the Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"Town board meetings are often intimate affairs," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of AUSCS, in a statement.

"If prayers are delivered in that sort of setting, it's plain to see who participates and who doesn't, and that can easily lead to coercion or ostracizing."

For its part, the Greece Town Board was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

David Cortman, senior counsel at ADF, said in a statement released last August that "Americans today should be as free as the Founders were to pray."

"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,'" said Cortman.

"The numerous and significant parties that have filed briefs in this case support the continuation of this cherished practice."

In May 2012, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals declared Greece's prayer practice unconstitutional, which reversed a lower court ruling.

Greece appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to take the case and hear arguments. Several amicus briefs were filed, including one from the Obama administration in support of the Greece Town Board.

"The unbroken history of the offering of prayer in Congress, for example, has included a large majority of Christian prayer-givers and a substantial number of prayers with identifiably sectarian references," the Justice Department brief stated.

"Neither federal courts nor legislative bodies are well suited to police the content of such prayers, and this Court has consistently disapproved of government interference in dictating the substance of prayers."

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