Greece prayer case goes to court
Friday, August 14, 2009
Mitch Pritchard –- ROCnow
The fight against sectarian prayer before town of Greece board meetings got its day in federal court Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa said he will render a written decision within six weeks.
In a case filed last year, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, on behalf of Greece residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, sued the town of Greece and Supervisor John Auberger over its long-standing policy of opening Town Board meetings with a prayer.
In the hour-long hearing, Richard R. Katskee, assistant legal director for Americans United, argued that the plaintiff is concerned not with prayer before the meetings but with sectarian prayers that have dominated the practice since Auberger started it in 1999.
According to court papers, of 104 prayers from 1999 through 2007, none were non-Christian. Since the lawsuit was filed, the majority of the prayers have been Christian, with one being delivered by a Wiccan priestess and two others by non-clergy.
Katskee stressed that the plaintiff is not against Christian prayer, but that the prayers have been aimed at one sect.
Katskee said the plaintiff just wants the town to ask clergymen who give a sectarian prayer to be non-sectarian in future prayers.
“One prayer that strays would not be basis for a violation,” Katskee said.
Joel Oster, a senior litigation counsel for Colorado-based Alliance Defense Fund that is representing Greece, said that it is not right to ask the town to police the clergy.
“It is not the town’s place to tell the clergy what to say,” Oster said. “It would cause a nightmare for the town.”
Auberger has said that the town’s practice is to have an open invitation to any Greece resident to contact the town about giving the prayer.
Town officials, however, do invite local clergy to offer prayers on a rotating business.