web analytics
January 29, 2015 / 9 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post


Legal Fight against Public Prayer Dates Back to Childhood Carols

A lifelong exposure to public Christian prayer drove a Jewish woman to sue a small New York town for violating freedom of religion. She won the case, but the Supreme Court might overrule the decision.
By:

Susan Galloway (right), a Jew, and atheist Linda Stephens are behind the fight in the Supreme Court over public prayer.

Susan Galloway (right), a Jew, and atheist Linda Stephens are behind the fight in the Supreme Court over public prayer.
Photo Credit: Catholic.org

The need for a firm barrier between church and state is as clear now for Susan Galloway as it was in grade school, when she was expected to sing carols at the Christmas show.

Galloway grew up in McHenry, Ill., a town northwest of Chicago with few other Jews, and the carols sung in school made ample mention of Jesus. Galloway refused to take part.

“It was against everything I was taught,” Galloway told JTA.

As an adult living in the Rochester, N.Y., suburb of Greece, Galloway encountered a similar problem. Each town board meeting would open with a Christian prayer that mentioned Jesus. She and a friend, Linda Stephens, both became uncomfortable.

Now the effort by Galloway and Stephens to stop it has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments were held last week in a case that could substantially redefine the scope of acceptable prayers in public venues across the country.

“They’re asking us to bow our heads, they’re asking us to join them in the Lord’s Prayer, they’re asking us to stand — all of this is in the name of Jesus Christ,” Galloway, 51, said in an interview last week. “This one guy went on about the resurrection. We have preachers who stand there with their hands in the air.”

Galloway’s day in court is the culmination of six years of legal battles that began after she started attending board meetings regularly in a bid to save the local public access television channel. Initially she and Stephens appealed to the board supervisor, but they were relegated to subordinates who told them to get over it.

“They basically told us we could leave or put up with it,” Galloway said. “I was offended.”

They sought backing from outside groups, but many turned them away. Especially hurtful for Galloway was the deaf ear from the Rochester Board of Rabbis.

“I presented the issue, and I hoped other rabbis would see it that way,” said Rabbi Simeon Kolko, a childhood friend of Galloway who agreed to make the case on her behalf. “There was not a willingness.”

Rabbi Larry Kotok, the board president, did not respond to a request for comment.

At first, Galloway said, she and Stephens felt ostracized; then it got worse. Threatening letters came in, some signed “666,” the Christian signifier of the devil. Stephens’ home was vandalized. Galloway believes hers was spared because she lives on a busy street.

But Galloway refused to be cowed — a product, she said, of an upbringing that stressed believing in the best of others. “I wanted to believe if you have a conversation with people and you explain to them a point of view and they understand something, there’s a way to work the issue out,” she said. “But they did not want to talk or negotiate or anything.”

With the assistance of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Galloway and Stephens pressed the issue. At first the town seemed responsive, opening up the sessions to prayers of other faiths four times in 2008. But the sides couldn’t settle and the matter went to the courts.

The fact that the Supreme Court is taking the case is not necessarily good news for Galloway. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled on her behalf, but when the Supreme Court considers appeals from lower courts it mostly intends to reverse the decision.

Still, Galloway has accrued the support — from Jewish and non-Jewish groups — she felt was missing in the case’s early days. An array of major organizations — including the Reform movement, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee — have filed friend-of-the-court briefs on her behalf.

“It sends a message to people who are coming that maybe they don’t belong, maybe they will be treated differently,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director for the NCJW. “It creates a climate that makes folks feel like they’re not necessarily part of the political process.”

The concern going into the oral hearing was that the court would substantially expand the definition of permitted prayer in a 1983 case, Marsh v. Chambers. That decision, based on a case related to prayers in the Nebraska Legislature, has been widely interpreted as allowing nonsectarian prayer in legislative bodies.

The Town of Greece is arguing that the ban on prayers should be limited to those that proselytize or defame other faiths. If the Supreme Court agrees, sectarian public prayer would be permitted.

Jewish organizations were heartened that during oral arguments, the lawyer for Galloway and Stephens, Douglas Laycock, moved the court to consider a different issue: Whether a publicly attended town board meeting should be considered as equivalent to a legislature.

In legislature cases, the argument goes, the affected parties — the lawmakers — willingly entered a system with existing rules and traditions that could include prayer. In a town board meeting, the affected parties are ordinary citizens going about their daily business.

“[The Marsh case] is adults elected by their constituents to go into a legislature where there’s a history of prayers being offered at every session,” said Michael Lieberman, the ADL’s Washington counsel. “This is different. The town council is the place where ordinary citizens must go to get a zoning variance or complain about cable service.”

For Galloway, it was a thrill to see Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan challenge the Town of Greece’s lawyer, Thomas Hungar, by imagining a hypothetical in which the court proceedings had been preceded by the same benediction recited at Greece’s board meetings.

“Suppose that as we began this session of the Court, the chief justice had called a minister up to the front of the courtroom, facing the lawyers, maybe the parties, maybe the spectators,” Kagan said. “And the minister had asked everyone to stand and to bow their heads in prayer and the minister said the following: He said, we acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We draw strength from His resurrection. Blessed are you who has raised up the Lord Jesus. You who will raise us in our turn and put us by His side. The members of the Court who had stood responded amen, made the sign of the cross, and the chief justice then called your case. Would that be permissible?”

“I don’t think so, your honor,” said Hungar, who then attempted to distinguish between legislative prayer and prayer in a courtroom.

Galloway believes that Kagan seized on that account of a Town of Greece prayer opening because she also is Jewish and has faced similar incidents in the course of her career.

“We’ve all had experiences that have been difficult,” Galloway said. “These are things common to Jewish people.”

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

5 Responses to “Legal Fight against Public Prayer Dates Back to Childhood Carols”

  1. These are indeed experiences to Jewish people. And I have personally been set upon by every way as her Christian neighbors has her, and like her I never got help either from other Jews afraid to make waves. Every prayer has one purpose–to be a religious test usually perpetrated by Christians who are evangelizing by nature and sorting out cult members from ‘outsiders.’ There is no Christian basis for public prayer. It is the same ‘local’ ploy used by Christians during the Middle Ages to hunt out non-Christians for destruction. Here it is to destroy Jews and others civilly and to marginalize them in numerous ways. Christians do this in small towns because they think local populations will not resist out of the reach of more American people. Good luck Ms. Galloway. Tear them a new one.

  2. Earl W. Littlefield Jr says:

    Let's send these females to Mecca to work on public prayer problems……

  3. Bruce Killey says:

    Well now this is interesting. Does the Jewish support for 'freedom from religion" extend to the nation of Israel, or only in nations where they are a minority? A sincere question.

  4. Chaiya Eitan says:

    When I was in school and that name was mentioned I simply didn't say it. This is part of the tradition of the U.S. By having Jews associated with this movement to ban the singing of Christmas carols in public places could create a backlash against Jews.

  5. Bill Dunn says:

    Where they don't live and aren't citizens? Your suggestion makes little sense. And "these females?" Have some latent misogyny, perhaps?

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
ISIS murderers threatening Obama
ISIS: We Will Behead Obama, Make US Part of the Caliphate [video]
Latest News Stories
Israeli election workers count remaining ballots from soldiers and absentees at the Knesset in Jerusalem

That’s it. If you didn’t register your party by now, you’re not running for the upcoming Knesset elections.

Explosion in El-Arish, in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, Jan. 29, 2015.

Simultaneous explosions in Egypt killed and wounded dozens Thursday night.

Undecided voters may be the only one who might change the poll results.

National religious voters favoring the new Yachad party headed by Eli Yishai may be wasting their votes.

ISIS murderers threatening Obama

ISIS threatens to behead Obama, turn the U.S. into a Muslim province, and destroy France and Belgium.

Locked in Auschwitz, their cries for assistance were not heard, so they escaped through an open window, setting off an alarm.

Hezbollah is a terrorist group and terrorist party, but most and worst of all, it is a huge and powerful army.

Lieberman’s issues a disproportionate response to polls that show his party will barely squeeze into the Knesset.

Boehner criticized President Obama for failing to take the threat of terrorism and the Iranian nuclear threat seriously.

US Treasury Secy Jack Lew contends that French Jews really want to stay in France. They just want to be safe too.

It is also still not clear whether the main issue of the election will be security or economics.

El-Sisi has embarked on an ambitious plan to destroy Hamas’s tunnel infrastructure underneath the Egyptian-Gaza border.

Israeli food makers are getting nervous about Israeli taste buds being Americanized.

Now the Secret Service needs a device to disable drunken government workers who fly drones at 1600 Pennsylvania.

PM Binyamin Netanyahu warns at a memorial for late PM Ariel Sharon that Iran has already begun its war against Israel.

“Not wanting to stir things up in the north” means “Yes, we could bomb them to kingdom come, but. no, we won’t.”

The US condemns Hezbollah’s attack on “IDF forces” but never mentions civilians or terror. Why not?

More Articles from JTA

More than 20 cars and buildings in a Jewish community in north London were vandalized with swastikas. The Nazi symbol was drawn on approximately 27 cars in the Osbaldeston Road area of Stoke Newington on Sunday night, The Daily Mail reported. An unnamed 32-year-old man was arrested in connection with the vandalism Tuesday. The neighborhood […]

New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind called on the Jewish community to attend the funeral of an assassinated New York police officer. “The brave men and women of the NYPD risk their lives every day to protect us. We value them and stand with them,” Hikind, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn, said in a statement […]

“Move Jew” scrawled on a Philadelphia home and slurs written on a synagogue and 10 garages in Chicago.

The Nazis nearly destroyed the 17th synagogue.

Cuba has “the largest pool of untapped baseball talent in the world, and Major League Baseball may tap and leave Cuba dry.

Argentina’s president Christina Fernandez has accepted an official Jewish godson for the first time in the country’s history to help counter legend of death to a seventh son. She described in seven tweets her meeting with her new godson, Yair Tawil, a member of a Chabad-Lubavitch family. He was adopted as a godson under a […]

A fundraising campaign started quietly by two first graders two years ago to help find a cure for a rare genetic disease just passed the $1 million mark.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/legal-fight-against-public-prayer-dates-back-to-childhood-carols/2013/11/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: