November 6, 2013

Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments in Greece v. Galloway Today

United States Supreme Court building.
United States Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Town of Greece v. Gallowway this morning around 10:00 am. This is a case secular activists will be watching closely, as it is expected to have far reaching implications for the separation of church and state.

The case centers on the common practice of invocation prayers to begin city council meetings; however, some are predicting that the court could open the door for prayer at government meetings more broadly. For more information about the case and how Americans United for Separation of Church and State has been working to protect our interests, see the information compiled here.

A worst-case-scenario sort of ruling in Town of Greece could have the effect of abolishing important legal precedent around the Establishment Clause, opening the door to sectarian prayer at government meetings. Here's how Jesse McKinley (The New York Times) recently summarized what is at stake here:
On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether those prayers — almost always delivered by Christian clergy members to the assembled audience — violate the First Amendment clause that prohibits the establishment of religion. The court’s ruling, expected next June, could be one of the most significant church-state decisions in 30 years, and could affect the nature of such invocations in municipal meetings nationwide.
It is entirely possible that the court might provide legal cover for those who insist on using government to promote their religion (nearly always Christianity). Were this to happen, atheists and other non-Christians would be further alienated, and it would be difficult to deny that the path had been cleared for the government promotion of a particular religion.

And what is the best outcome we can realistically hope for in this case? Ideally, the court would make it sufficiently clear that it is not legally permissible for a government body to open formal meetings with sectarian prayer. Here's what the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board had to say on the subject:
Ideally, the court would go even further and recognize that, in an America in which an increasing number of citizens identify with no religion, even nonsectarian, lowest-common-denominator prayers can exclude and marginalize nonbelievers. Obviously a Jew who goes to a town meeting to petition for a permit will be made uncomfortable when he is urged to join in a prayer to "our Lord Jesus." But an atheist in the same position will be equally offended by a request that he join in a prayer to a generic God.
Public prayer has no place at government meetings. Silent prayer is perfectly legal and should be more than sufficient for those who cannot make it through a meeting without praying. I cannot help wonder why the Christians pushing so hard for the practice are willfully ignoring what their own bible says about public prayer.

If you should find yourself in the Washington D.C. area this morning, I hope you will consider joining secular activists in one of the rallies taking place on the steps of the Supreme Court.

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