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Court Rules Prayers at Town’s Meetings Too Christian

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World — Secularist advocacy groups trying to ban prayer at public meetings won a legal victory on May 17. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled against the town board of Greece, N.Y., which opens meetings with prayers. The town had invited pastors and lay people from a variety of denominations and religions—even atheists—to say these prayers. Some non-Christian clerics, including a Wiccan priestess, had offered a few prayers in 2008.

Nevertheless, the 2nd Court concluded that “the town’s prayer practice had the effect of affiliating the town with Christianity,” affirming arguments made by plaintiffs’ lawyers from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Christians have uttered most of the prayers, the decision noted, and they have often included Christian terms like “Jesus” or “Your Son.” Citing a Supreme Court precedent in Marsh v. Chambers (1983), the court conceded that prayers at government meetings are not by definition unconstitutional. But it contended that the board needed to go out of its way to make the prayers nonsectarian.

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