Legal scholars are predicting that a case about to get underway in the United States could become one of the largest freedom of religion cases in recent legal history.
The case involves the small town of Greece, New York, and focuses around the town council’s practice of starting each meeting with a prayer. The case, which will open this week, raises the issue over worship and religious observances in public.
If the court case goes against the town council then this could mean religious observances could also affect prayer sessions that are held ahead of school sporting events, charitable events, and school board meetings; other public events where prayers are held could also be affected by the decision of the court.
The Supreme Court is hearing the case after an appeals court ruled that the New York town was in violation of the constitution for beginning each meeting with a prayer. The town council had been carrying out the practice of beginning their meetings with a prayer for more than a decade.
Two New York residents, Susan Galloway (Jewish) and Linda Stephens (Atheist) had argued that the offering up of prayers before a meeting was endorsing Christianity and said that this went against the Constitution. It was also suggested that the town of Greece was not neutral enough when it came to selecting its prayer leaders and stated that it meant that people without faith were being excluded.
However, David Cortman from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy group, countered that the prayers were led by Christians due to demographics, which, simply put, means the town has a high percentage of Christians.
Cortman is fearful that if the decision goes in favor of the party challenging the city laws, then it will spell an end to centuries and centuries of public religious practice.
Cortman went on to argue that people in America should be free to pray. He also stated the Supreme Court has ruled that praying in public is part of the tradition and history of the United States.
“The question really here is whether citizens can be coerced or pressured to participate not only in prayer but in prayers of another religion that they may not agree with and may not practice as a condition of participating in their local government and as a condition of petitioning their local government,” said Gregory Lipper, senior litigation counsel with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
A victory in favour of Galloway could also mean that prayers won’t be said at other public events such as the presidential inauguration.
The Town of Greece v. Galloway case was scheduled to get underway yesterday, and oral arguments are scheduled to begin in the Supreme Court in November.
Photo: Mark Fischer/flickr