Supreme Court 'wrestles' with limitation of prayers at government meetings
Two women in upstate New York take exception to mostly Christian prayers at meetings
In addressing the concerns of two women in the upstate New York community of Greece, Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and atheist Linda Stephens, the Supreme Court is currently hashing out the limitation of prayer at government meetings. In testing the long-contested separation of church and state, it appears that the justices had no interest in eliminating prayer altogether at such meetings. The justices seem to be grappling with whether new limits would let such prayer not make those who disagree with the message feel coerced into participating, for fear that they may alienate government officials.
The lawsuit about prayer at government meetings of Susan Galloway, right, and Linda Stephens, residents of Greece, N.Y., went before the Supreme Court this week.
A lawyer for the town of Greece, Thomas Hungar, said he didn't think so. But in the case of prayer before a legislative body, court doctrine has found that the country, "from its very foundations and founding," allows it, he said.
One Jewish woman, the other an atheist, are suing the town of Greece where meetings of the governing board have opened with a prayer since 1999. When the women formally complained that the prayer was offered exclusively by Christians, the difficulty which ked to the suit began.
It's the first case on legislative prayer to come before the court since 1983, when the justices held that the Nebraska Legislature did not violate the Constitution by opening sessions with a prayer from a Presbyterian minister acting as the state-paid chaplain.
Some justices questioned what would be an acceptable prayer to appeal to all faiths as well as nonbelievers. Justice Antonin Scalia asked, to laughter in the courtroom: "What about devil-worshipers?"
Chief Justice John Roberts wanted to know: "Who is going to make this determination?"
Scalia drew a distinction between prayers before a legislative session and prayers before a judicial session.
"They are there as citizens," Scalia said, speaking of legislators. "And as citizens, they bring to their job all of - all of the predispositions that citizens have. And these people perhaps invoke the deity at meals. They should not be able to invoke it before they undertake a serious governmental task such as enacting laws or ordinances?"
The attorney representing the two women says that it was fine for them to invoke a deity or have a prayer, and certainly to pray to themselves. "We've said they cannot impose sectarian prayer on the citizenry, and that is very different from what Congress does," attorney Douglas Laycock said. "It is very different from what this court does."
The Supreme Court opens its sessions with an invocation: "God save the United States and this honorable court."
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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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