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SCOTUS prayer ruling offers template for other towns

Rochester, N.Y. -- The local legal community is breaking down the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of the Greece Town Board to begin sessions with prayer. 

"I think this decision will hold and it will hold for a long time," said attorney Ed Fiandach.

Congress and some state governments also begin sessions with prayers.  The Supreme Court has refused to take up the broader issue and instead rule on a case-by-case issue.

Greece was able to document that religious guests of all faiths, even atheists and wiccans, have been invited to open town board meetings. The prayers were not mixed with public business or with votes on town matters.

In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy called it "ceremonial prayer" and noted it dates back to the founding fathers.

"By doing it at the beginning of the meeting, it made it a ceremonial thing, like, 'Here ye, here ye,'" said Fiandach, who has spoken out strongly for the other side but says the narrowness of the ruling has deflated some of his argument. "It would be hard pressed to say the framers were against this type of procedure when they were engaged in this type of procedure."

"The First Amendment could not have been drafted in a vacuum," added attorney Bob Brenna, who said there is another side to this argument. "The town made it a policy to welcome any religion which wished to be there. So the real question has been did they do it in such a way that they somehow became discriminatory in that practice?" 

That was the concern of four justices on the other side of the decision. Justice Elena Kegan wrote in the dissenting opinion the prayers are "government-sponsored worship," pointing out the majority of the prayer leaders were Christian.

While not addressing the broader issue, this ruling does give other local governments a template of what the Supreme Court would allow. 

"The court has done a very good job of laying out the perameters that are acceptable," said Brenna.

 
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