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May 09
​Supreme Court Confirms the Right of Local Governments to Open Board Meetings with Prayers

In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Town of Greece, N.Y. did not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with a prayer. The Town of Greece’s official policy allows any person of any or no denomination to deliver an invocation at the beginning of town board meetings, and the Town does not approve or even examine the prayer in advance. In practice, from 1999-2007, all prayers givers were Christian, and some referred to Jesus. The Court rejected respondents’ arguments that legislative prayer cannot contain sectarian language and that prayers before town board meetings are coercive.  

The Court ruled that prayer before town board meetings is not coercive just because citizens who attend meetings often have business before the board. Prayers in this context—and the state legislative context where citizens can only address state legislatures by invitation—are not intended for the public but for the lawmakers “who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing,” the Court held.  Read the Town of Greece v. Galloway opinion here.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) will be hosting a webinar to discuss the impact of this case on state and local governments. The webinar will be on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 from 1:00PM – 2:00PM EDT. Tom Hungar of Gibson Dunn, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, Douglas Haney, City Attorney for Carmel, Indiana, and Lanny Proffer, former General Counsel for the National Conference of States Legislatures, will lead the webinar discussion. You can register for the webinar by clicking here

Contact: Mike Belarmino at mbelarmino@naco.org or 202.942.4254 or Lisa Soronen at lsoronen@sso.org or 202.434.4845

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