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Supreme Court Postpones Decision on Greece Prayer Dispute

12:02 PM, May 13, 2013   |    comments
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By Brian Tumulty
Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday postponed deciding whether to review a prayer case involving the Town of Greece.

The nine justices have before them several petitions involving prayers at public meetings and one school graduation case, all of which raise issues involving constitutional prohibitions against government endorsement of a particular religion or faith tradition.

The justices were scheduled to privately discuss whether to accept the Greece case last week, but the list the court released this morning did not mention it.

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against the Greece town board's practice of inviting only local church leaders to deliver an opening prayer, which a lawsuit said ensures most of the prayers will be Christian.

The appellate court reversed a federal district court ruling that upheld the practice.

The Greece case dates back to 2009, when two local residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephen, objected to the town's practice and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a church-state watchdog group, filed a lawsuit on their behalf.

The lawsuit said that with the sole exception of four meetings in 2008, the town always has had an opening Christian prayer and one prayer leader asked attendees to join in reciting the Lord's Prayer.

Constitutional lawyers have said the case raises an important legal conflict between the First Amendment's protection of prayer offered by private individuals invited to speak at a public meeting and the Establishment Clause that prohibits government bodies from endorsing a particular religion or faith tradition.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a similar practice by another town, creating a conflict in rulings that some expect the Supreme Court to resolve.

A group of 49 members of Congress, represented by the conservative Family Research Council, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Town of Greece, arguing that the House of Representatives has followed a similar practice dating back to its inception.

"Of the 304 prayers offered in the 112th Congress, only eight were offered by non Christians: seven Jewish rabbis and one Muslim imam,'' the Family Research Council said. "Therefore, 296 prayers - 97 percent - were offered by Christians.''

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