House Members File Brief in Prayer Case

By Pattison, Mark | National Catholic Reporter, August 16, 2013 | Go to article overview

House Members File Brief in Prayer Case


Pattison, Mark, National Catholic Reporter


WASHINGTON * Eighty-five members of the House of Representatives have filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the U.S. Supreme Court, supporting the town of Greece, N.Y., in its bid to continue opening legislative meetings with a prayer.

The brief, prepared by the Family Research Council and filed Aug. 2, said: "Congress has an interest in a single coherent Establishment Clause rule that protects long-standing and traditional public acknowledgments of faith."

In the New York case, the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the town's policy was unconstitutional. Proponents of legislative prayer said the town had a highly inclusive policy and that the appellate court ignored the fact that Greece allowed any volunteer to provide a prayer before meetings, including individuals of no faith.

The Establishment Clause appears in the First Amendment of the Constitution. It states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." It is followed by the Free Exercise Clause, which says, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

"There is now no clear governing rule or rationale" for determining the constitutionality of legislative prayer, the brief said. Past court decisions show a three-way split.

Besides the 2nd Circuit's decision in the Greece case, in a 1983 ruling in Marsh v. Chambers, the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for a chaplain to open Nebraska's legislative sessions with prayer and for that chaplain to be state-supported, overturning the 8th Circuit, which ruled both practices violated the Constitution.

Also, the high court in 2012 refused to review a ruling by the 4th Circuit in Joyner v. …

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