Faith & Spirituality

May 9, 2014

Town prayer case challengers: The debate matters

GREECE — Two upstate New York women who challenged their town board’s pre-meeting prayers before the nation’s highest court said Tuesday their disappointment in losing is softened by the dialogue the case has inspired.

A day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s narrow decision upholding the practice of reciting Christian prayers at the start of Greece Town Board meetings, Linda Stephens and Susan Galloway said they would continue to push the board to be more inclusive and hoped to see atheists among those leading the traditional moment of prayer that follows the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I didn’t do this since 2007 to just fold my hands and say, ‘oh well,’” Galloway told The Associated Press.


Both residents said they are happy to see the debate their case has generated around the country, where it has been a top news story, generated thousands of online comments and inspired a contest by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to recognize the best secular “invocations” delivered at government meetings.

“People who never thought about this subject are suddenly thinking about it one way or another,” Stephens said.

Stephens, an atheist, and Galloway, who is Jewish, brought the case after complaining that the Christian prayers at town board meetings made them uncomfortable. Every meeting from 1999 through 2007 had been opened with a Christian-oriented invocation.

Both women said they received hate mail for raising the issue and were subject to public scorn, especially early on: Stephens found her uprooted mailbox on top of her car one morning, and part of a fire hydrant submerged in her swimming pool.

“Even among the Supreme Court it brought up an awful lot of emotion,” Galloway said, noting the 5-4 split among justices that was nearly along religious lines. The five justices in the majority decision are Catholic, while three of the four in the minority are Jewish.

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