Congressmen to Supreme Court: Keep Prayer Legal at Public Meetings

Tuesday, 06 Aug 2013 11:40 AM

By Jennifer Hickey

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House and Senate lawmakers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of using prayer to open public meetings. The court is to hear a case from Greece, N.Y., in its next session.

The case "brings about an historic moment in the effort to preserve the fundamental American principle of religious liberty," Rubio said in a statement Monday.

It originates from the Rochester suburb, where Town Board meetings generally are opened with a Christian prayer. Two local women sued, arguing the practice violates the Constitution by endorsing Christianity.

A federal appeals court agreed, ruling that the practice constitutes government's "endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint."

On Friday, 85 U.S. House members filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case,
Rep. Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican and co-chair of the Congressional Prayer caucus, said in a statement.

A separate friend-of-the-court brief was filed by 33 Republican senators and one Democrat, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

For five years, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens have fought the town of Greece over the prayers.

“Government should be inclusive,” said Galloway. “There are people who don’t believe, and they’re part of this country, too. We all have a right to be part of it and not feel excluded.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the use of public prayer before town meetings violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, pointing specifically to the way Greece chooses its opening prayer.

"The town’s prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint," the court said. "This conclusion is supported by several considerations, including the prayer-giver selection process, the content of the prayers, and the contextual actions (and inactions) of prayer-givers and town officials."

"We emphasize that, in reaching this conclusion, we do not rely on any single aspect of the town's prayer practice, but rather on the totality of the circumstances present in this case," the court said. "The town's process for selecting prayer-givers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint."

The case — expected on the Supreme Court's October docket — marks the first time the court has considered legislative prayer since upholding the practice 30 years ago, according to Bloomberg News



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