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July 26, 2013

N.Y. town prayers at issue as Supreme Court takes up religion for 1st time in 30 years

(Continued)

Galloway and Stephens fault the town for not publicizing its volunteer policy. They say the result has been that almost all the prayers in recent years have been delivered by Christians.

The July 16 invocation lasted less than a minute, including Auberger's introduction. Miller thanked God for "the many freedoms that we enjoy here in America" and for "the freedom that comes from knowing your son, Jesus." He spoke facing an audience of barely 20 people — including Galloway, Stephens and a group of uniformed police officers there to see a new colleague take her oath.

As he spoke, four of the five board members — all but Auberger — took up Miller's suggestion to bow their heads. As Miller ended with the word "amen," many throughout the room answered in kind.

Galloway and Stephens say that in previous meetings, officials went further in suggesting that the town was adopting the prayer — and the Christian faith — as its own. In their lawsuit, the women describe board members making the sign of the cross, Auberger presenting plaques to the "chaplain of the month," and prayer-givers asking the audience to participate by standing or reciting the Lord's Prayer.

The two women also describe meetings attended by children, there to lead the Pledge of Allegiance to fulfill a school civics requirement.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the town's prayer practice "must be viewed as an endorsement" of Christianity, violating the Constitution. The three-judge panel said the selection process "virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint," faulting Greece for relying on clergy almost entirely from places of worship within the town's borders.

The appeals court also said officials failed to explain that the prayers weren't intended to affiliate the town with a particular creed.

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