Town of Greece v. Galloway

The Town of Greece, in New York State has, since 1999, opened its legislative sessions with a sectarian prayer. The Town, as well as the United States Government, claims this to be permissible under the 1983 Supreme Court decision Marsh v. Chambers. CFI argues, however, that the historical basis of that decision have been undermined by rapid changes in society.

CFI’s brief argues that despite the finding of Marsh, experience shows that sectarian prayer is not a harmless ceremonial act, but instead deeply divisive to society, sending a message to both minority religious adherents and secular individuals alike that they are not full citizens. As demographics change, and atheists and non-Christians become a greater percentage of the population, the “harmlessness” of Christian prayer at government events becomes even less plausible. CFI also argues that post-Marsh cases from the Supreme Court have themselves changed the landscape, and it is no longer acceptable to justify sectarian legislative prayer simply by a reference to history. Under current precedent, the prayer practice cannot withstand constitutional challenge: it is not neutral, as only clergy are chosen, and almost all of those Christian; it is coercive, as local citizens including school children are required to attend; and it endorses religion, as Greece does not even make an attempt to distance itself from the message put forward. CFI also notes that even the historical argument is flawed, as this program dates back only to 1999.