For years, the Greece Town Board has clergy to open the Board’s monthly meetings with a prayer. Over the past decade, all but two of the prayergivers have been Christian. Because the Town Board has neither suggested nor required that its speakers present prayers that are inclusive or nonsectarian, the vast majority of prayers have been explicitly Christian.
In February 2008, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of two local citizens, alleging that the Town Board’s presentation of consistently Christian prayers violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and asked the federal trial court in New York to prohibit the Town from sponsoring sectarian prayers at future meetings.
In August 2010, the court granted the Town's motion for summary judgment and dismissed our case. We appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan presented oral argument in September 2011.
On May 17, 2012, a panel of the Second Circuit reversed the trial court and ruled in our favor. In a unanimous opinion, the Court of Appeals explained that the Town's procedures "virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint" because nearly all of the prayers were delivered by Christian clergy. The Town violated the Establishment Clause, ruled the Court, by presenting a "steady drumbeat of often specifically sectarian Christian prayers."
The Town sought rehearing by the full Second Circuit; the Court denied the Town's request in August 2012.
On May 20, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear an appeal of this case. Oral argument will occur before the high court in the fall of 2013 with a decision likely by the end of June 2014.
Read our latest Church & State article about the case.