Prayer in Town Meetings Upheld & Other Recent Supreme Court Decisions

The United States Supreme Court in Washington D.C. - Photo by John S. Treu

Interesting cases this last week from the Supreme Court involved prayer in town hall meetings, mandatory restitution in a mortgage fraud case, and reversing a summary judgment in an excessive force case.

In Town of Greece v. Galloway the high court reversed the Second Circuit’s ruling that prayers offered at the beginning of town hall meetings violated the establishment clause because, even though they were open to all creeds, the prayers were predominantly offered by individuals of christian faiths incident to the fact that nearly all of the Congregations local to the town were christian.[1] Justice Kennedy, delivered the 5-4 opinion of the court finding that the practice did not violate the establishment clause based on Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783, thereby upholding the long history of legislative prayer as a non-coercive practice that is deeply rooted in the tradition and heritage of the U.S. legislative process.

The Court rejected the respondent’s position that only a generic or non-sectarian prayer to an unspecified God could be offered as such a policy would “force legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech…” Justice Kagan delivered a dissent joined by Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor finding it persuasive that the prayers were all christian. Apparently ignorant of the fact that there are tens of thousands of different christian religions and several different denominations offered prayers for the Town of Greece, Kagan ironically writes about a lack of religious diversity by deftly painting all christian faiths with the same brush and even making several references to these many separate religions as the same single religion and faith.

In Robers v. United States the Court provided interpretation for the definition of property pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996.[2] The decision affected the proper calculation for restitution that Benjamin Robers was ordered to pay incident to his conviction for submitting fraudulent mortgage applications.

In Tolan v. Cotton, a suit against a police officer for excessive force in a shooting incident that was dismissed on summary judgement, the Court held that a reading of the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party precluded summary judgment based on the officer’s qualified immunity.[3]

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U. S. ____ (2014)
  2.  Robers v. United States, 572 U. S. ____ (2014); Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996, 18 U. S. C. §§3663A–3664
  3.  Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U. S. ____ (2014)

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