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Are prayers before public meetings OK? Supreme Court to decide.

Officials in Greece, N.Y., set up a system for prayers before town meetings. The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to examine whether the practice violates the First Amendment's separation of church and state.

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The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to examine whether offering a prayer before a town meeting violates the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.

The issue in Town of Greece v. Galloway (12-696) is whether city officials violated the First Amendment’s ban on government endorsement of a particular religion when it set up a system that allowed local volunteers to offer a prayer prior to the town’s monthly meetings.

Although non-Christians delivered a few of the prayers, the vast majority of volunteers offered – and delivered – pre-meeting prayers that featured Christian religious references.  

At least two regulars at town meetings objected to being forced repeatedly to listen to Christian prayers. They complained to town officials that they felt marginalized by the town’s prayer policy.

One of the complaining residents in the New York town was Susan Galloway, who is Jewish. The other was Linda Stephens, an atheist.

After the town refused to change its prayer policy, the two filed suit in federal court. They said that by consistently presenting Christian prayers prior to its meetings, the town was intentionally discriminating against non-Christians. They also argued that the pre-meeting prayers were advancing a single faith over other religions or nonreligion.


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