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Case Update: Supreme Court Upholds Right To Open Town Meetings With Prayer

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Ronald D. Richards Jr.
Foster Swift Municipal Law News
June 19, 2014

Our prior newsletters noted Galloway v Town of Greece as a “case to watch” on the municipal front. The case’s central issue was whether a town board’s practice of starting each meeting with a short prayer is constitutional. In early May 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided Galloway – and upheld the town board’s practice. The practice at issue was this: for over 15 years, the monthly town board meetings opened with a roll call, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer by a clergy selected from the congregations listed in a local directory. The Court ruled that the town’s practice does not violate the Constitution even if some prayers stressed Christianity routinely. The Court added, “[t]he prayer opportunity in this case must be evaluated against the backdrop of historical practice. As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions.”

As the Court noted in Galloway, decisions analyzing the constitutionality of government actions involving religion always depend on their specific facts. So caution should be given before extending Galloway’s decision to other practices.