Court rules town's board meeting prayers too Christian

by Thomas Kidd

GREECE, New York — Secularist advocacy groups trying to ban prayer at public meetings have won a legal victory. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled against the town board of Greece, N.Y., which opens meetings with prayers. The town had invited pastors and lay people from a variety of denominations and religions—even atheists—to say these prayers. Some non-Christian clerics, including a Wiccan priestess, had offered a few prayers in 2008.

Nevertheless, the 2nd Court concluded that "the town's prayer practice had the effect of affiliating the town with Christianity," affirming arguments made by plaintiffs' lawyers from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Christians have uttered most of the prayers, the decision noted, and they have often included Christian terms like "Jesus" or "Your Son." Citing a Supreme Court precedent in Marsh v. Chambers (1983), the court conceded that prayers at government meetings are not by definition unconstitutional. But it contended that the board needed to go out of its way to make the prayers nonsectarian.

Greece city officials countered that almost all the formal religious organizations in the town are Christian, leaving them few options for non-Christian supplicants. The court suggested that the board might have pursued non-Christian clergy in the surrounding region to fulfill its religious diversity quota. The Alliance Defense Fund, which represented the town, plans to appeal the ruling.

Published, June 13, 2012
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