The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument this week in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. Since 1999 the town has been inviting predominantly (though not exclusively) Christian clergy to open its monthly meetings with a prayer. The issue now presented is whether starting a town board meeting with a prayer violates the Establishment Clause of our Constitution.
The Establishment Clause provides, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….” It was meant to prevent our government from endorsing or supporting any religion. Yet “legislative prayers” have been sanctioned since the very first Continental Congress. The Town argues that its meetings are just that– legislative sessions.
The attorney for the plaintiffs, who are two non-Christian local women, argued that the board was “functioning in a fundamentally different way from [how] Congress or the State legislature functions.” He argued that the Town ought to instruct its chaplains to invoke nonsectarian prayers, and to refrain from asking the attendees to “physically participate.” He explained, “What’s coercive about it is, it is impossible not to participate without attracting attention to yourself, and moments later you stand up to ask for a group home for your Down syndrome child, or for continued use of the public access channel, or whatever your petition is, having just, so far as you can tell, irritated the people that you were trying to persuade.”
Fortunately, the United States Supreme Court publishes a transcript of all oral arguments. I highly recommend reading this one at http://www.supremecourt.gov/, or listening to it here– http://www.supremecourt.gov/audio.