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May 24, 2014 12:00 pm
NC Family president John Rustin talks with Brett Harvey, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, about a landmark ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 5, 2014 in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, which upheld the constitutionality of a New York town’s public prayer practices.
This is family policy matter program is produced by the North Carolina family policy Council of profamily research and education organization dedicated to strengthening and preserving the family enough in the studio. Here's John Rushton, president of the North Carolina family policy Council and thank you for joining us this week for family policy matters. It is our pleasure to have Harvey on the program with Brett's senior legal counsel with alliance defending freedom or ADLs.
Brett has assisted state and local governments on issues involving public invitations and he has successfully represented clients in defense of their First Amendment freedoms and the right to life. Brett is with us to discuss a landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court that was issued on May 5, 2014. In the case of town of Greece V. Galloway, in which the court upheld the constitutionality of a New York towns public prayer practices.
ADF represented the town of Greece. In the case and Brett was directly involved in the litigation, the Supreme Court's decision in town. Greece is a major victory for the religious liberties of Americans of all faiths.
We are going be talking with Brett about the ruling and what it means for similar challenges to public prayer across the United States, including here in North Carolina. Brett, welcome to the program. Thank you.
Glad to be here. Well were delighted to have you and appreciate you taking time out of what we know is an extremely busy schedule to inform us about the implications of the Supreme Court's decision not before we talk about the decision Brett tells Bleakley about the case, Grace Galloway found it began and what legal questions did the high court consider well for the last actually going on since 1999, the town of Greece has done what very similar to what communities do all across the country and they hold the town meetings they open them with the public prayer the town of Greece actually allowed any member of the public to volunteer and deliver prayer and it turns out that or most of that time. Those that were interested in delivering a prayer happen to come from a Christian perspective that didn't set well with to the local residents and they filed a lawsuit claiming that the prayers either need to be silenced or censored because it was just too much Jesus in those prayers to many Christians praying and they took offense to what was ADF's role in this case, the town of Greece reached out to us and asked for help in defending them, and we were honored to do so.
We stood with the town at the trial court level at the trial court. The judge sided with the town agreed and understood that that this was a historic tradition and that the town had done nothing to discriminate over prevent anyone from delivering an indication. We also represented the town when he got appealed to the US or board of appeals for the Second Circuit. Unfortunately, a three-judge panel at the appellate court level decided that the town was just too closely affiliated with with those prayers and so they stuck the practice down.
The town had the courage to appeal to the United States Supreme Court and were certainly pleased that the court has now reaffirmed again that Americans are free to pray my brother thank you so much for the role of ADF in this case, and so many others are across the country. Across the years. You will do such a great job and we are so appreciative of it. Let's talk about this landmark decision. It was a file for ruling so it was relatively close, but definitely was a significant victory for the American tradition of public prayer tells about the court's opinion, if you would.
It was a five for decision, but interestingly all nine judges affirmed the fact that opening public meetings with the prayer is constitutional and all nine judges affirmed that even if some of those prayers have Christian content in them or refer to a particular faith. They remain constitutional where the judges differed on whether it is on whether or not the town has some sort of obligation to do more to demonstrate its neutrality in the five judges in the majority said no.
The town is done all that they need to do this was they didn't discriminate against anyone they open this opportunity up to anyone in the town who had an interest in the fact that the overwhelming majority of the prayer happen to come from a Christian perspective was irrelevant.
That just doesn't make it unconstitutional while in the majority opinion, which was altered by Justice Kennedy. The court referred to the 1983 case of Marjorie Chambers. Can you tell us briefly about that case and what legal precedent is set for the court's decision in the town of Greece case 30 years ago the United States Supreme Court first looked at the constitutionality of legislative prayers there a self-professed atheist who happened to serve in the Nebraska Legislature sued because the state of Nebraska opened their legislative sessions with a prayer effect they had the same Presbyterian minister deliver the prayer for 16 years, and not surprisingly, the Presbyterian minister prayed like a Presbyterian, so the prayers came from a Christian perspective.
He said that when all the way up to the Supreme Court back in 1983 in court came down and said there is a historical practice of opening public meetings with the prayer and there's nothing unconstitutional about it. Interestingly and Marjorie Chambers, the court looked backed and recognized that the very authors of the First Amendment, the people who wrote the First Amendment as they were finalizing the worst to send out to the states for ratification voted to hire chaplains to perform religious services, including opening sessions of Congress with the prayer it tradition that was started in 1789 and continues through to this day. In light of that tradition of the court wisely said there's just no way the framers thought that opening public needs with prayers was an establishment of religion. It was true in 1983 and is true in 2014 as it should be and it should remain brought Americans United for the separation of church and state the group to challenge the town of Greece's prior policy made a big deal out of the fact that a majority of prayers before the town's meetings were Christian in nature. What did the Supreme Court specifically say about the sectarian nature of the prayers, and particularly about the constitutionality of prayers that are offered in the name of Jesus Christ, the court spent a lot of time dealing with that because for the last 10 years of host of lawsuits have been filed all across the country.
Many in Carolina actually challenging the way people pray suggesting that there's a problem if you pray in the name of Jesus, or if you offer Christian prayer that the only types of prayers that should be acceptable in public or generic prayer or some prayer that they would turn nonsectarian. The court spent a lot of time on that base and he came to the conclusion that it's impossible to to draw a theological line between what's appropriate and what's not appropriate. What sectarian and what's nonsectarian because there is no prayer that satisfies everyone that me think about it prayer that speaks about God in the singular is going to offend a polytheist such as a Buddhist or Hindu, a God that is refers to God in the masculine form. It is our father is going to offend someone who believes that that God is feminine. Any reference to God is going to to offend an atheist. There's nothing that you can say that that is universal and to every body and the court has recognized that so they came down to the conclusion that you cannot draw theological line and prayers. Once you allow a person to pray, that person must be allowed to approach and refer to their God consistent with the dictates of their own conscience will read as you know, the lower courts are divided on the constitutionality of public prayer before government meetings, including North Carolina in the 2011 ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dealing with a challenge to the public prayer policy of Forsyth County, North Carolina. Now, the Fourth Circuit ruled against Forsyth County's prior policy and on appeal, the Supreme Court declined to review the decision. How do you think the Supreme Court ruling in this New York case will impact the Fourth Circuit's ruling or action in the North Carolina case and other similar conflicting rulings by other lower courts ruling by the Supreme Court is now binding upon all these lower courts that had been at a what we call a circuit split a division within the lower court as to how dope the Constitution applied to legislative prayers. But now that the Supreme Court has again reaffirmed the constitutionality, prayers, and more importantly for the joiner feast Forsyth County decision has made it clear that the government can act as a sensor of prayers that completely undermines and should overturn the decision of the Fourth Circuit from joiner V Forsyth County. Remember, the joiner court ruled that prayers were okay but that the government had an obligation to censor the prayers. Now the Supreme Court has said you're right. The prayers are okay, but the government cannot act as a sensor sensor prayers in the county cannot force prayers to be non-sectarian that undoes what the Fourth Circuit had previously said there are three different cases in the Fourth Circuit right now that are pending relative to challenges to the way people pray to public meetings.
All of those decisions will be impacted by this by this case and in fact the Forsyth County, North Carolina will have the opportunity to go back to court and request that the injunction that was imposed upon them now be listed in light of the town of Greece decision that we also have had another lawsuit filed against Rowand County in North Carolina and that cases currently pending.
Can you talk about that a little bit and help us understand what impact do you think the town of Greece opinion may have on Rowand County's current litigation sure Rowand County. Their practice is to allow the elected officials themselves to deliver the prayers town of Greece that this their practice was to allow volunteers in the community to deliver the prayers. They fill you with is pointing to that distinction as a way of trying to suggest that the town of Greece does not apply to rolling County.
However, I think that's the that will not last long.
The town of Greece decision will certainly impact rolling County, North Carolina. Unquestionably, interestingly enough, the, the argument that it's different when County officials themselves. The elected officials themselves pray has already been answered by the Fourth Circuit, the Fourth Circuit looked at two different cases within the last five years where the challenge was made against elected officials praying and each of those cases, the court made it clear that the fact that the elected officials were praying did not make those prayers unconstitutional, so I understand the gambit that the ACLU is trying to play here, but I don't give them much hope of success.
I think the town of Greece will provide a great deal of protection for rowing counties. County commissioners asked him about his great, great news.
ADF recently launched a national initiative called Rita pray in response to the Supreme Court's town of Greece decision tells about that campaign in the petition.
ADF is circulating as part of the free to play campaign. What we want to educate public officials and remind them that they are free to pray and they are not burdened by having to censor these prayers and that the people who pray maintain the freedom to pray consistent with the dictates of their own conscience.
The last 10 years.
Groups like the ACLU, Americans United for the separation of church and state, freedom from religion foundation have sent thousands of letters out across the country and focusing on the Carolinas. Quite frankly, asserting that prayers had to be should be silenced and had to be censored. Now that the Supreme Court, this book we want to set the record straight by communicating with these public officials letting them know what what they are entitled to do under the law that they are free to pray and they are free to allow uncensored prayers on our website. We are encouraging free to pray.org report encouraging people to go and sign the petition just so that we can notify public officials and their communities, as did exactly how widespread support for prayer is the cherished American tradition and it's a tradition that has withstood the test of time because it has demonstrable benefits but I know that many of our listeners will be interested in taking advantage of that and let me repeat that website is for you to pray.org that we are were nearly out of time for this week.
I really appreciate your time in this information and insights are so much a part of our listeners go to learn more about allots defending freedom.
What are you sure the website for free to pray but what about information about the Lodge defending freedom for listeners alliance defending freedom.org has a lot of information about what were doing cases it has a lot of information about the tender Greece case. You can get the resources to help educate your community leaders, but also has information about other cases that are going on around the country that I think that listeners should be aware of what Harvey thank you for your time and for being with us on family policy matters and for your great work defending religious liberty at allots defending freedom. Thank you so much for having us family policy matters. Information and analysis, future of the North Carolina family policy Council join us weekly discussion on policy issues affecting the family. If you have questions or comments. 91 907-0800 or visit our website and see family.1