05 May 2014

Law in Plain English: Town of Greece v. Galloway

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogTown of Greece v. Galloway

Argument: Nov 6 2013 (Aud.)

Background: Since 1999, the Town of Greece, New York, has begun its Town Board meetings with a short prayer. In 2008, Galloway and other  town residents brought suit against the town, asserting that aspects of this prayer practice violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The District Court rejected the claim and ruled for the town. The Second Circuit reversed, concluding that an objective, reasonable person would believe that the town's prayer practice had the effect of affiliating the town with Christianity. The Government filed an amicus brief supporting the position of the town.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that a legislative prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause notwithstanding the absence of discrimination in the selection of prayer-givers or forbidden exploitation of the prayer opportunity.

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the town’s prayer practice does not violate the Establishment Clause. Legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause, and insistence on nonsectarian prayer is not consistent with this tradition.
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