November 6, 2013
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case challenging the practice of opening government meetings with prayer. The town of Greece, New York, has a policy allowing anyone who wishes to offer a prayer before their meetings to request to do so; they have even hosted a Bahai leader and a Wiccan Priestess. Despite the town’s highly inclusive prayer policy, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit departed from Supreme Court precedent and declared the prayer practice unconstitutional.
Congressman J. Randy Forbes issued the following statement:
“Today the Supreme Court considered a vital question: under what circumstances may a legislative body begin its sessions with prayer? Our nation can trace the time-honored tradition of opening legislative sessions with prayer back to the First Continental Congress. However, today the Court was asked to make a radical, unwarranted departure from the Constitution. By asking the Court to uphold the Second Circuit’s opinion, the individuals challenging the town’s prayer practice asked the Court to dramatically expand the legal test for determining an unconstitutional prayer.
During oral argument, some of the Justices expressed concern over imposing too much government intervention in guiding the composition of prayers. Justice Scalia noted, “The people who are on the town board or serving in Congress are citizens. . . . It seems to me an imposition upon them to stifle the manner in which they invoke their deity.” The purpose of the Establishment Clause is not to sanitize public life of all vestiges of religion. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right—a right that is essential to the health and well-being of a democratic society. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution was designed by the Founding Fathers to prohibit the government from coercing citizens to adhere, or not adhere, to a certain belief; it is not a license to remove all religious references from the public square.”
The Court is expected to issue a decision in the spring. Congressman Forbes, along with Congressman Steve Scalise, led eighty-five Members of Congress in an amicus curiae brief in support of the town’s legislative prayer practice. Congressman Forbes is the Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, a bipartisan group of 100 Members of Congress who are committed to defending America’s heritage of religious freedom.
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