In Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in the case of Greece v. Galloway, which challenges the legality of prayer before Greece Town Board meetings in Western New York. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The central argument laid before the Supreme Court Wednesday was over how much separation there should be between government and religion.
"This case is about Christians aggressively imposing themselves on their fellow citizens with the power of government, and that's not right, and it's not part of the American tradition," said Douglas Laycock, attorney for the plaintiffs.
The case was initially brought by two women, one a Jew, the other an atheist, who objected to what they called overtly Christian prayers before board meetings in the Town of Greece, N.Y. A federal appeals court said that those opening prayers violated the Constitution.
The town's lawyer told the Supreme Court justices that the opening prayers were well within American tradition and are supported by a legal precedent set in 1983.
"The Town of Greece has a legislative prayer practice that is consistent with the traditions of this country from its very founding. Congress, from the very beginning of our history, has had a legislative prayer practice that is comparable to what the Town of Greece has been doing," said Thomas Hungar, attorney for the Town of Greece.
The plaintiff's attorney told the Court that he wasn't arguing to get rid of prayer before council meetings, just that such prayers should not be "sectarian." Justice Samuel Alito pressed him to come up with a prayer that would be acceptable to all faiths.
Toward the end of the hearing, Justice Elena Kagan reminded those listening that the Court was, in her words, trying to maintain a multi-religious society in a peaceful and harmonious way, and that every time the Court gets involved in things like this, she said it seems to make the problem worse.
Outside the court, Susan Galloway, the Jewish plaintiff, said that regardless of the outcome, she's happy about the awareness the case provoked.
"I think more people know about what the Establishment Clause and are questioning the prayer and the role it has in government," Galloway said.
Wednesday's hearing marked the first time in 30 years that the Supreme Court has taken a case that examines the role of public prayer at a government gathering. A ruling is expected this summer.