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Supreme Court discusses prayer in town meetings


Prayer at public town meetingsis it constitutional? And if so,  how religiously specific can it be? These questions were put before the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in a case that could more clearly define the separation of church and state in this country.

This has been a fight six years in the making from Greece, NY to finally here in Washington. The ruling could impact the way cities and towns across America conduct local government meetings in the future.

"This is my town.  I live here.  I support this town and I should not have to feel like this."

Meet Susan Galloway.  A Jewish resident of Greece, New York, she says she felt uncomfortable when town council meetings began with a prayer mentioning Jesus Christ. As did Linda Stephens, an Atheist.

"The town of Greece is just like the country.  It's religiously diverse and that is not being accommodated by our town fathers," said plaintiff Linda Stephens. These two women are the plaintiffs in the case town of Greece vs Galloway - now before the nation's highest court.

"Should a local government be able to impose prayer on a citizen as a price of attending and participating in their local government meetings?" said ACLU attorney Heather Weaver.

Heather Weaver with the American Civil Liberties Union says no - that in town hall meetings people are asking for zoning permits or voicing grievances and may feel judged should they choose not to pray. But a 1983 case - Marsh v Chambers - the Supreme Court found prayer in state legislatures is ok, that it's part of our history. But religious leaders who side with the town of Greece, say the law allows for people to freely express their religion.\

"What we don't want is the justices were questioning is the government censoring prayers or telling people how to pray or who to pray to," said David Cortman, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom.

It's the blurry area between the separation of church and state - and the freedom to worship this case is expected to define a little more. Jamie Taskin, American University professor of constitutional law.

"I think it's very unlikely that the court is going to uproot this tradition going back to the beginning of the republic but I think a reasonable court could say you've got to make sure that its scrupulously neutral and everybody gets a turn at the dius."

Arguments before the court were met with tough questions by the justices on both sides...When the ruling comes down in the spring, it's likely to be a narrow one, leaving room for more cases on this wall of separation between church and state in the future.