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Prayer at Public Meetings Gets Obama's Support

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on August 12, 2013 8:31 AM

The Obama administration has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of prayer at public meetings.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers are on the same side of this issue. Both sides have filed amicus briefs with the Court supporting the town of Greece, New York.

Here's what they're arguing and how it could affect our laws on religion:

Galloway v. Town of Greece

Last year, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the town of Greece crossed the line and violated the First Amendment's prohibition on an "establishment of religion." Two residents, one Jewish and one an atheist, filed the lawsuit because only Christians were invited to lead the prayers at town meetings.

The case will take on the question of whether the Supreme Court should relax the constitutional limits on prayer before government meetings.

Lawyers for the Obama administration and two groups of lawmakers from the House and Senate (nearly all Republicans) separately handed in amicus briefs last week, arguing that Greece's town councils should be allowed to open their meetings with a prayer.

The Court's decision, however, may turn on how religiously inclusive the prayer is, and how much religiously diverse participation is encouraged.

Potential Implications

The Town of Greece case will be the first Supreme Court legislative prayer case since Marsh v. Chambers in 1983. In that case, the Court held that legislative sessions could begin with a prayer in most circumstances, citing the "unique history" of the practice throughout U.S. history.

The case could have far reaching implications beyond legislative prayer. It could affect the law on other government action including religious speech or a passive display. The Court's decision may very well lead to sweeping changes in our laws on religion.

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