23 States File Joint Brief in U.S. Supreme Court in Support of Town Hall Prayers in Jesus’ Name

Supreme CourtThe states of Texas and Indiana have co-authored an amicus brief joined by 21 other states in an effort to demonstrate support for a case before the U.S. Supreme Court surrounding town hall prayers that are predominantly in Jesus’ name.

As previously reported, in May of the this year, the court accepted the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, a legal challenge that centers on the invocations that are offered at town hall meetings in Greece, New York, just outside of Rochester.

The matter stems back to 2010, when local residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens sued the town, asserting that its predominantly Christian prayers violate the Constitution. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the women noted that most of the invocations were in Jesus’ name or referenced the Holy Spirit. Galloway and Stephens contended that the prayers made them feel “marginalized” as they are not followers of the Christian faith. Galloway is Jewish and Stephens is an atheist.

After some residents first complained to town officials about the matter, other faiths were incorporated into the meetings, including at one point, the Wiccan religion. However, as prayers continued to be in Jesus’ name more often than not since the town is largely comprised of Christian and Catholic churches, the women decided to take the matter to court.

After a New York district court sided with the town, last year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling. It declared that the invocations delivered at the town hall meetings violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The court did not take issue with the practice of praying before the meetings per se, but rather contended that the invocations needed to be more diverse.

“[The prayers] virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint,” the justices opined.

Greece officials then appealed the ruling to the United States Supreme Court, requesting intervention in the matter.

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On Friday, the office of Indiana Attorney General Gregory Zoeller issued a press release outlining that he and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had co-authored an amicus brief in support of the City of Greece. The brief was joined by attorney generals from 21 additional states, including Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Colorado, Idaho and Ohio.

“When the United States Supreme Court considers major constitutional issues facing our nation, it is essential that the states make their legal position known to the court,” Zoeller said. “We ask the Supreme Court to provide clarity so that uncertainty will not hinder the authority of our state legislatures to make decisions.”

The brief requests that the Supreme Court rule that prayers do not have be pre-screened for “sectarian references.”

“The Court should reject the assumption that the content of private citizens’ prayers before legislative assemblies is attributable exclusively to the government. Such prayers, rather are expressions of private belief made in service to an elected body of citizens,” it reads. “Those present may participate or not, but each citizen’s mode of rendering this particular service to a governmental body may rightfully be accommodated.”

Indiana had won a similar case before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals following a 2005 lawsuit. Oral argument is expected in the Greece matter in October.

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