The Supreme Court has accepted a case asking the question of whether beginning a town board/city commission meeting with prayer violates the Establishment Clause. I’m surprised they’ve actually decided to do this, and worried that it’s only being taken because five justices want to rule that it doesn’t (it takes 4 justices to agree to hear a case).
The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway. The town apparently didn’t begin starting its meetings with prayer until 1999, so it’s not an ancient tradition. It invites local clergy and then gives them a “Chaplain of the Month” award. Following complaints by Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, in 2008 the town allowed 4 non-Christians to give the invocation, but in 2009 went back to all Christians. Galloway and Stephens sued in federal district court. That court ruled in favor of the town, but the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that a reasonable person could interpret the practice as aligning the town with Christianity.
The legal issues are more complex than I have time to go into right now, involving both the Lemon test and the Court’s 1983 Marsh v. Chambers ruling which avoided using the Lemon Test and decided that prayers before a legislative session did not violate the Establishment clause. That precedent and the pro-religion position of at least 4 of the Court’s current members is what makes me nervous. To me, these practices clearly establish governmental position in favor of faith v. no faith, and most often in favor of Christianity v. other faiths.