A federal appeals court has ruled that the prayers opening the monthly government meetings in Greece, New York, over the past 10 years have been too Christian. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit found that Greece’s policy of opening monthly meetings with an invocation violated the First Amendment’s supposed separation of church and state because the prayers have been almost exclusively offered by representatives of the Christian faith.
“The town’s desire to mark the solemnity of its proceedings with a prayer is understandable,” wrote Judge Guido Calabresi for the three-judge panel. “Americans have done just that for more than two hundred years. But when one creed dominates others — regardless of a town’s intentions — constitutional concerns come to the fore.”
From 1999 to 2007 every monthly government meeting in Greece was opened with a Christian invocation. But in 2007 two city residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, complained about the trend, prompting the town to invite a Wiccan priest, a Baha’i representative, and a Jewish man to offer the prayers. Nonetheless, at eight of the 12 meetings Christians offered the invocation.
In 2008, with the aid of the atheist group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the two disgruntled women sued the city and its supervisors, charging that the prayer policy violated the Constitution. Reuters News reported that a lower court “ruled in the town’s favor before a trial, finding that town employees did not intentionally exclude any particular faiths and did not restrict the content of the prayers.” But the three-judge 2nd Circuit panel unanimously reversed that decision on May 17, “finding that the town’s process for selecting speakers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint.” Reuters reported. “Even though most of the congregations in Greece were Christian, the town could have invited clergy from outside its borders, the panel found.”