Commentary

08.26.14

Upcoming Likover Memorial Lecture Explores Religious Liberty After Greece v. Galloway

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Save October 12, 2014 on your calendar to learn what religious liberty means post-Greece v. Galloway. Join in the conversation with ACLU of Ohio Staff Attorney Drew Dennis as he discusses the current state of religious liberty with plaintiff Susan Galloway and her choice to speak out against official prayer at public meetings.

What triggered Greece v. Galloway? For more than a decade, the Town Board of Greece, New York solicited local clergy with the opportunity to deliver a prayer to open its monthly meeting. However, the vast majority of the official prayers that were delivered before the board were Christian.

Read more about Greece v. Galloway

Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens asserted that the Town Board’s practice of official prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. They argued that the Town Board’s practice was unconstitutional, because it was one-sided and the Board’s action was to endorse a particular religion. They suggested that the Town Board should instruct persons delivering prayers to make them compatible with most or all religions.

The Supreme Court concluded:

  • The Board permitted anybody to conduct the prayer and exercised no control over its content.
  • No. The majority of the Supreme Court interpreted the evidence to conclude that the Board permitted anybody to conduct the prayer at the start of meetings, and that the Board exercised no control over the content of the prayers.The government may not dictate the content of prayers – neither the Town Board nor the courts may prohibit a person from expressing his or her personal religious beliefs.
  • Limitations can be placed on the prayer’s content, if the purpose of the practice was an attempt to convert to or denigrate other religions.
  • Not all units of government may engage in sectarian prayers at any time.

This marked a radical change in how the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted if a government entity was tacitly sponsoring religion. Before this decision, courts used the “endorsement” test which asked whether the practice has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion in the eyes of the community. For years, this test functioned as the separation between church and state—which may now be further eroded.

Join us for the 2014 Ed Likover Memorial Lecture to learn more about whether Greece v. Galloway represents a change in our understanding of the Establishment Clause, what happened to the separation of church and state, and what religious liberty means today.

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