The Supreme Court will hear a new case today on a dispute over prayers being used to open public town board meetings in Greece, NY.
Lawsuit filers Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens claim the board meetings have opened for 11 years in a row with prayers that almost always stressed Christianity alone.
A handful of town residents, represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, felt they were marginalized and sought to challenge the ritual.
“Government can’t serve everyone in the community when it endorses one faith over others.” Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said. “That sends the clear message that some are second-class citizens based on what they believe about religion.”
After Galloway and Stephens complained to the board, opening prayers were briefly given by a diverse group, including a Jewish layman, a Wiccan priest and the chairman of a local Baha’i congregation. However, most prayers were given by a member of the Christian faith. A majority of the prayers contained Christian language, such as “Holy Spirit,” “Jesus Christ” and “Your Son,” according to official meeting records.
"A town council meeting isn't a church service, and it shouldn't seem like one." Lynn said.
The town argues that members of all faiths and atheists were welcome to give the opening prayer.
Each month a town employee would select clerics by using a local published guide of churches, which did not include non-Christian denominations. However, in the town of just under 100,000 people, even Galloway admitted that she was unaware of any non-Christian places of worship.