At their most recent monthly meeting, the five members of the Greece Town Board took their seats, gaveled to order and moved quickly through the regular opening agenda:
Roll Call. (Check.)
Pledge of Allegiance. (Check.)
Moment of Prayer. (Check.)
Leaders of this town of 96,000 outside Rochester say they have no plans to shake up the longtime routine unless, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court orders them to.
A ruling could come any day now on whether the town violated the Constitution with its opening prayers because nearly every one in an 11-year span was overtly Christian. This month’s was no exception — a Baptist minister delivering a 40-second invocation.
Greece’s expeditious, matter-of-fact Christian prayer, with no mention of those who believe differently, is at the heart of a case with potentially wide-ranging impact: Governmental bodies from Congress and state legislatures to school boards often pause for prayer before getting down to business.
But if this town — which is neither rich nor poor and is evenly split politically — has been swept up in this potentially divisive question, there has been little outward evidence. No signs, pickets, billboards or bumper stickers.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s being talked about at the grocery store, the coffee shop,” said Town Supervisor William Reilich, who characterized the initial lawsuit as the work of out-of-town interests with a broader anti-public prayer agenda. “It wasn’t like residents rose up against this.”
The case, Greece v. Galloway, began in 2008 when two town residents complained 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.
After the complaints, the town, in 2008, had a pagan, Baha’i and Jewish layman deliver four of the prayers. But from January 2009 through June 2010, the prayer-givers were again invited Christian clergy, according to court documents.
The residents lost their suit in U.S. District Court after the judge found that the town did not intentionally exclude non-Christians. But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the practice of having one Christian prayer after another amounted to the town’s endorsement of Christianity.