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Did Christian Prayers at Gov't Meetings in This NY Town Violate the Constitution?

"A town council meeting isn’t a church service, and it shouldn’t seem like one."

A member of the Lair of Assisi Fraternity holds a wooden cross while kneeling in prayer during a Mass noting the beginning of the papal election taking place thousands of miles away, at the Cathedral in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, March 12, 2013. Cardinals from around the globe locked themselves inside the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City on Tuesday to choose a new leader for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. The Lair of Assisi Fraternity is a Brazilian Catholic group, ministering to people living on the streets and running homeless shelters. Credit: AP

The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to, once again, weigh in on the intersection of religion and government. The new case the court will hear involves a dispute over prayers used to open meetings in an upstate New York town. Already, the impending court battle is gaining the attention of both sides of the First Amendment debate.

The justices said Monday they will review an appeals court ruling that held that the town of Greece in suburban Rochester violated the Constitution by opening nearly every meeting over an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the town should have made a greater effort to invite people from other faiths to open its monthly board meetings. But the town says the high court already has upheld prayers at the start of legislative meetings and that private citizens offered invocations of their own choosing -- an element that explains why, in the town's view, the inclusion was permissible.

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS), a church-state separatist group, sponsored the lawsuit and is encouraging the U.S. government to affirm its stance on prayer at public meetings. In a press release distributed today, the organization decried the presence of sectarian prayers at legislative gatherings.

"A town council meeting isn’t a church service, and it shouldn’t seem like one," AUSCS executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn said. "Government can’t serve everyone in the community when it endorses one faith over others. That sends the clear message that some are second-class citizens based on what they believe about religion."

Last year, TheBlaze covered a federal court ruling that found that Greece did, indeed, violate the constitution by allowing for these prayers. Now, this will, once again, be challenged. The AUSCS brought the original lawsuit on behalf of Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, two residents who objected to the local town board's inclusion of clergy in sectarian prayers.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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