Town of Greece v. Galloway: Constitutional Challenges to State Sponsored Prayers at Local Government Meetings
26 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2014
Date Written: February 10, 2014
This article, based on the Edward L. Barrett Lecture presented in November, 2013, examines the constitutionality of state sponsored prayers at town board meetings using the Town of Greece case as the focus of the discussion. While recognizing that the Town of Greece’s conduct raised significant Establishment Clause concerns under both a coercion test and an endorsement test, the article sets out the conditions under which state-sponsored prayers might withstand constitutional review. These include: (1) The town must employ a transparent, open, and egalitarian system for inviting individuals to offer prayers at board meetings. Invitations cannot be limited to established congregations in the community. (2) The prayers offered should be “I” prayers rather that “We” prayers. The person offering the prayer should do so in his or her own name, not as the voice of the audience or the community. As a matter of first principles, government is not vested with the power to speak to G-d in our names. (3) Officials introducing the person offering the prayer should explain that the prayer offered is the personal expression of the speaker, not the government, and that the board recognizes and respects the diversity of beliefs among its residents. (4) The audience should not be asked to stand, bow their heads, or join in reciting the prayer. These constraints are arguably sufficient to ameliorate the burdens on religious liberty and equality created by state-sponsored prayers without involving the town or the courts in unacceptably intrusive monitoring of the content of prayers.
Keywords: endorsement test, legislative prayer, coercion test
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