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Supreme Court rules in favor of Greece in prayer case

Rochester Business Journal
May 5, 2014

The Greece Town Board’s practice of opening meetings with a prayer does not violate the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision Monday.

First filed in U.S. District Court in Rochester in 2008, the Greece prayer dispute shone a national spotlight on the Rochester suburb. Plaintiffs objected to the town’s practice of inviting an area clergyman to begin board meetings.  

The Alliance Defense Fund, the legal arm of a pro-public-prayer national group called the Alliance Defending Freedom for Faith and Justice, argued the town’s case. Lawyers supplied by Americans United for Separation of Church and State argued for the plaintiffs.

In a statement the Alliance hailed the Supreme Court ruling as, “(defending) the prayer giver’s freedom of speech over an offended’ person’s demands for censorship.”

In a statement, Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the decision “a new low at the high court.”
The court’s 5-4 vote allowing the opening prayer broke down along familiar ideological lines.  

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said the opening prayer does not violate the Constitution.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan disagreed.

Writing for the majority, Kennedy held that the town board’s opening prayers are not unduly sectarian or likely to make non-Christians uncomfortable.

“Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define,” he wrote.

Kagan’s dissent cast the town board’s opening benedictions as a clear violation of the Constitution’s ban of state-sponsored religion.

“In arranging for clergy members to open each meeting, the town never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve, accommodate or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions. (That) practice does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government,” she wrote. 

(c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail

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