Facts of the case
The town of Greece, New York, is governed by a five-member town board that conducts official business at monthly public meetings. Starting in 1999, the town meetings began with a prayer given by an invited member of the local clergy. The town did not adopt any policy regarding who may lead the prayer or its content, but in practice, Christian clergy members delivered the vast majority of the prayers at the town’s invitation. In 2007, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens complained about the town’s prayer practices, after which there was some increase in the denominations represented.In February 2008, Galloway and Stephens sued the town and John Auberger, in his official capacity as Town Supervisor, and argued that the town’s practices violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by preferring Christianity over other faiths. The district court found in favor of the town and held that the plaintiffs failed to present credible evidence that there was intentional seclusion of non-Christian faiths. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and held that the practices violated the Establishment Clause by showing a clear preference for Christian prayers.
The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Town’s prayer practice was not unconstitutional. According to the Court, the First Amendment did not require legislative prayer to be nonsectarian. The Court averred that prayers that reflected beliefs specific to only some creeds were permissible so long as the practice over time was not exploited to proselytize or to disparage any other faith or belief. Disparaging remarks in two of the Town’s prayers did not establish a constitutional violation, as the Town’s practice on the whole reflected and embraced the tradition of legislative prayers. Nor did the fact that a predominantly Christian set of ministers had been invited to lead the prayers violate the Establishment Clause, as the Town was not required to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in order to achieve religious balancing.
- Advocates: Thomas G. Hungar for the petitioner Ian H. Gershengorn Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae for the petitioner Douglas Laycock for the respondents
- Petitioner: Town of Greece, NY
- Respondent: Susan Galloway et al.
- DECIDED BY:Roberts Court
- Location: Town of Greece NY Town Hall
|Citation:||572 US 565 (2014)|
|Granted:||May 20, 2013|
|Argued:||Nov 6, 2013|
|Decided:||May 5, 2014|