De Alliance Defending Freedom Blog, por Alan Sears
Few cases illustrate so clearly the lengths to which many in today’s legal culture will go to undermine your Christian heritage and religious liberties as one Alliance Defense Fund attorneys are currently appealing in Greece, New York.
In a singularly tangled bit of judicial reasoning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has struck down that community’s prayer policy – even while upholding the right of towns like yours to open their public meetings with prayer.
The problem with inviting such prayer in Greece public meetings, according to the court, is that the clergy in that town are too Christian. It’s not fair, the judges decided, to have so many of the public prayers prayed to Jesus. Instead, they’ve directed city officials to search in other towns and jurisdictions to find non-Christians who will agree to come to Greece and pray on behalf of the residents. That way, the court says, non-Christians in Greece won’t “feel like outsiders.”
How does this kind of thing get started? The Greece Town Board traditionally opens its public meetings with prayers offered by clergy from throughout the community – each one invited through a random selection process. A few years ago, two women of the town decided that was unconstitutional – and quickly enlisted Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) to file a lawsuit for them.
A federal court ruled that the opening prayers were constitutionally protected. The AU appealed. And now comes this latest decision from the 2nd Circuit, again affirming the constitutionality of the process but this time urging the community to expand its pastoral pool.
The Second Circuit says it reversed the earlier federal court ruling in favor of the town for several reasons: a) the town did not invite non-Christian clergy from outside the town; b) town leaders did not publicly “explain that it intended the prayers to solemnize Board meetings, rather than to affiliate the town with any particular creed”; and, c) town leaders did not object or apologize when those leading the invocations included words like “let us pray” – words that might have led some present to think that the prayers were being offered up on behalf of the whole town, rather than just those in agreement with the praying.
“Since this nation’s founding, public meetings have been opened with prayers offered according to the conscience of the speaker,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster, who argued the case before the Second Circuit. “Prayer-givers have a right – protected by the First Amendment – to engage in speech that reflects their own conscience and religion during such prayers. That doesn’t make the prayers an endorsement by the town itself of any particular religion.”
“Secularist groups,” he adds, “cannot be allowed to force local governments to engage in strange hoops and hurdles that effectively eliminate prayers by making them too difficult to take place.” That’s why ADF is appealing the Second Circuit’s decision.
Laurence Behr of Buffalo, one of more than 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit Galloway v. Town of Greece. Please be in prayer for him and for all of our staff and allied attorneys as they defend people of faith across America from legal attacks, brutal and subtle, on your religious liberty.