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Court rules NY town can open public meetings with prayer

ADF attorneys secure favorable decision in legal attack filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A federal court issued a decision and order Thursday that allows the Greece Town Board, represented by Alliance Defense Fund attorneys, to open public meetings with prayer. Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the town on behalf of two residents who objected to the practice.

“America’s founders opened public meetings with prayer. Public officials today should be able to do the same,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. “Opening public meetings with prayer has always been lawful in America, and the court here affirmed that it still is today.”

“As the court itself concluded, invocation policies like the Town of Greece’s are constitutional,” Oster explained. “In fact, the court specifically pointed out that government attempts to mandate watered-down prayers that don’t mention a specific deity, as demanded by Americans United, would violate the First Amendment by placing government in control of the content of prayer. An organization with ‘separation of church and state’ in its name should not advocate for a violation of the Establishment Clause.”

“The Court finds that the policy requested by Plaintiffs would…impose a state-created orthodoxy,” the court’s opinion states. “The Court has also considered the identities of the prayer-givers and the process that the Town employed in inviting clergy to deliver prayers, and finds that these factors did not have the purpose or effect of proselytizing or advancing any one, or disparaging any other, faith or belief, within the meaning of the Establishment Clause.”

The court listed examples of recent prayers given in Congress that mention a specific deity and pointed out that they are “indistinguishable from some of those being challenged in this case.”

In February 2008, AU filed a lawsuit against the town of Greece on behalf of residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, who alleged that the opening invocations at town meetings are unconstitutional. ADF attorneys responded to the lawsuit on the town’s behalf, arguing that allowing government entities to acknowledge America’s religious heritage and invoke divine guidance and blessings upon their work has always been constitutional.

The lawsuit Galloway v. Town of Greece was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. ADF-allied attorney Laurence Behr of Buffalo, one of nearly 1,800 attorneys in the ADF alliance, served as local counsel in the suit.   

  • Pronunciation guide: Oster (Oh-stir)

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.