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Town of Greece v. Galloway

Description:  In 2008, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the town of Greece on behalf of local residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, who claim that continued Christian prayer at the opening of town meetings is unconstitutional. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the town argue that the practice of deliberative bodies to invoke divine guidance and blessings upon their work has always been constitutional.

Friday, Dec 7, 2012
NEW YORK — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys will appeal Thursday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that struck down a New York town’s prayer policy but upheld the right of towns to have such prayers before public meetings.

The court said that because the town of Greece contains predominantly Christian clergy, it should search other towns and jurisdictions for non-Christians to invite to pray at its own town meetings and take other uncommon steps to ensure that non-Christians do not “feel like outsiders.”

“Since this nation’s founding, public meetings have been opened with prayers offered according to the conscience of the speaker. There is no legal reason why a town cannot engage in this practice today with people from within its own community,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster, who argued before the 2nd Circuit last year. “The district court rightly affirmed the constitutionality of the town’s policy; we will appeal the 2nd Circuit’s decision. Secularist groups cannot be allowed to force local governments to engage in strange hoops and hurdles that effectively eliminate prayers by making them too difficult to take place.”

The Greece Town Board opens public meetings with prayers offered by clergy invited through a random selection process of clergy within the town’s borders. On behalf of two residents who object to such prayers, Americans United for Separation of Church and State appealed a 2010 federal court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the town’s practice.

AU filed its lawsuit against the town of Greece in 2008 on behalf of residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, who alleged that the opening invocations at town meetings are unconstitutional. A district court disagreed, and the 2nd Circuit’s decision also rejected the idea that such prayers are automatically unconstitutional.

However, the 2nd Circuit reversed the district court ruling in favor of the town because the town did not invite non-Christian clergy from outside the town, did not take an uncommon extra step to publicly “explain that it intended the prayers to solemnize Board meetings, rather than to affiliate the town with any particular creed,” and did not dispute words like “let us pray” when spoken by prayer-givers. The court, while stating that it is not advocating for scrutiny of the words of prayers, nonetheless reasoned that such phrases could have been interpreted by some as prayer on behalf of the town.

“The Constitution has never required any local government to engage in such gymnastics to have prayer, as is clearly seen by the prayers of America’s Founding Fathers,” Oster explained. “Prayer-givers have a right protected by the First Amendment to engage in speech that reflects their own conscience and religion during such prayers. That does not make the prayers an endorsement by the town itself of any particular religion.”

Laurence Behr of Buffalo, one of more than 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit Galloway v. Town of Greece.
  • Pronunciation guide: Oster (OH’-stir), Behr (BARE’)

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.



Previous News Releases

Legal Documents

Petition for writ of certiorari: Town of Greece v. Galloway
2nd Circuit en banc denial: Galloway v. Town of Greece
2nd Circuit order: Galloway v. Town of Greece
District court decision and order: Galloway v. Town of Greece
Brief in support of summary judgment: Galloway v. Town of Greece
U.S. Supreme Court opinion: Town of Greece v. Galloway
Supreme Court oral argument transcript: Town of Greece v. Galloway

Related Resources

ABOUT David Cortman

David A. Cortman serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom. Cortman heads all direct litigation efforts to protect religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and marriage and the family. He has successfully litigated over 200 cases at every level, including recent victories at the U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts of appeal. A member of the bar in Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and the District of Columbia, he is also admitted to practice in over two dozen federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Cortman obtained his J.D. magna cum laude from Regent University School of Law.

ABOUT Brett Harvey
Brett Harvey serves as senior counsel and vice president of allied legal affairs with Alliance Defending Freedom. He has assisted state and local governments on issues involving public invocations and religious expression, and he has successfully represented clients in defense of their First Amendment freedoms and the right to life. Harvey and the Allied Legal Affairs team he leads focus on recruitment, professional engagement, and integration of allies into ADF’s advocacy efforts, including coordinating amicus efforts at state supreme courts, circuit courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Harvey earned his J.D. from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in Georgia in 1995. He is admitted to the bar in the states of Georgia, Florida, Colorado, and Arizona. Harvey has also been admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court; the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the 6th, 9th, 10th, and 11th Circuits; and the U.S. District Court in Colorado. He joined Alliance Defending Freedom in 2000 and has been practicing law since 1995.