Skip to main content
Hero Image

U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Alliance Defending Freedom Public Prayer Case

By Brett Harvey posted on:
October 17, 2017

PrayerIs the government obligated to control the way people pray in public?  The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide this very question.  You see, the Town of Greece, NY has been sued because, when they open their town council meetings, they refused to censor the prayers of citizens who volunteered to deliver the opening invocation.  Rather, the Town allowed the volunteers to deliver the prayers in their own words and according to their faith tradition.  Any resident of the town could volunteer and they were scheduled on a first come first serve basis.  Although most of the people who volunteered to deliver the invocations were some flavor of Christianity, over the years a variety of faiths perspectives were offered, including Wiccan, Jewish, and Baha’i.   However, this “open to all” policy didn’t satisfy the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and its clients.

While generally frustrated that the Town opened its meetings with a prayer, the thrust of the complaint by the two “offended” participants was that they had to listen to prayers that mentioned Christian beliefs or closed in the name of Jesus.  Ultimately, the litigants asserted that the town had an obligation to censor the prayers to prohibit distinctly Christian prayers in favor of the more generic prayers they were willing to listen to.  This would put the town in the awkward role of Prayer Editor. Fortunately the trial court saw the ridiculousness of what the litigants were asking for and ruled for the Town. However the ruling was overturned on appeal. Now the Supreme Court will decide.

Thirty years ago the Supreme Court wrote that public prayer was a part of the “fabric of our society” when it ruled on Marsh v. Chambers. This case was against the State of Nebraska because they hired a Presbyterian minister to open each day of the legislative session with a Christian prayer.  The Supreme Court reviewed the history of legislative prayer and found that Congress hired chaplains to pray for their deliberation as they wrote the Bill of Rights.  More than 225 years later, Congress continues to hire chaplains to deliver legislative prayers every day they are in session. The words of the First Amendment remain unchanged.  The Supreme Court reasoned that Americans remain as free as the Founders were to pray.

Despite the clear ruling in Marsh, hundreds of towns and counties throughout America find themselves under attack by groups seeking to stop the practice of opening public meetings with prayer.  Since 2004, twenty different federal lawsuits have been filed demanding that local governments censor or abandon this historic tradition.  But a few people should not be able to extinguish the traditions of our nation merely because they may hear something they don’t like.

The Supreme Court’s decision to review Galloway v. Town of Greece, NY sets the stage for the Court to reaffirm that Americans today remain as free as the Founders were to pray.  It’s perfectly constitutional to allow community members to ask for God’s blessing according to their conscience. And we pray this tradition will stand throughout the end of time.

Get updates and additional information on the case:

Brett Harvey

Brett Harvey

Senior Counsel, Vice President of Allied Legal Affairs

Brett Harvey, Esq., serves as senior counsel and vice president of the Grants and Funding Team with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Religious Freedom

The Supreme Court Halted Unfair COVID Restrictions in NY—That’s Good News for Calvary Chapel

This bodes well for churches and other houses of worship across the country that have been treated unfairly by COVID restrictions.

Religious Freedom

WATCH: Why Chike’s College Should Be Held Responsible for Violating His Rights

Colleges and universities are supposed to promote the free exchange of ideas as they raise the next generations of leaders. When they don’t, courts should hold them responsible.

Religious Freedom

How This Supreme Court Case Could Affect the Free Speech of Us All

Is our current American culture hostile toward free speech? You need look no further than Chike Uzuegbunam’s story to find the answer.