Public Prayer Case Before High Court Next Week

The United States Supreme Court will soon hear the case of a township in the State of New York that has been sued for having a public prayer before its town meetings. Greece, a suburb of Rochester, NY, will be represented by a team including attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as it appeals the ruling of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and its clients that the Town of Greece violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause with its opening prayers.

ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman stated, “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.’”

Notably, numerous Executive and Legislative Branch officials at the federal, state, and local level have weighed in with the Court in support of such public prayer.  In its brief, the U.S. Department of Justice points out the long history of prayer before legislative sessions, dating to the First Continental Congress in 1774, and it argues:

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. 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.

Responding to judgment from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that the Town of Greece should have gone to extraordinary lengths to tamp down Christian influence in its invocations, the Town’s lead attorney, Tom Hungar, who is allied on this case with ADF, asserted, “The Constitution has never required any local government to engage in such gymnastics to have prayer…. Those who offer such prayers have a right protected by the First Amendment to engage in speech of this sort that reflects their own religion and conscience. That does not make the prayers an endorsement by the town itself of any particular faith.”

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on this case the morning of Wednesday, November 6.


By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: November 1, 2013