On November 6, the US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway, a case that is centered around prayer at government meetings. Two of the town’s residents, one atheist and one Jewish, initiated the case, citing that Greece town meetings have been opened with a prayer, overwhelmingly biased toward Christianity. After the practice was declared unconstitutional by the Second U.S. Circuit Court, the town residents and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right advocacy group, petitioned SCOTUS to hear the case, and the Court agreed.
This case is of particular interest to me, not only because it involves church-state separation issues, but because I once resided in the Town of Greece and still live just 15 miles away. Unfortunately, the issue at the center of this case was poorly chosen. The lower court ruled it’s fine to begin meetings with a prayer or invocation, but the history of this particular town’s opening plea was that of endorsing Christianity rather than representing the religious diversity of its residents. It was the fact that the vast majority of prayers were Christian that was the problem, and not the existence of prayer itself at a government meeting.
While the Supreme Court may choose to refocus the issue at hand to the larger question of all prayer at government meetings, it’s likely to take the less controversial path to hearing arguments of the facts of this specific case, and rule that prayer at government functions must be representative of the population or nondenominational. Big deal. It appears that although church-state watchdogs Americans United have agreed to represent Galloway in the case, they will likely focus their argument on equal representation in prayer, rather than for the elimination of it altogether. Although AU would like to see prayer removed, it would be a much tougher concept to sell to a Supreme Court full of theists.