- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2013

When it comes to this week’s Supreme Court case over a Greece, N.Y., community that faced fire for opening government meetings with Christian prayers, the White House is siding with the town, citing judicial precedent and tradition.

The case centers on whether Greece government officials actually endorsed a specific religion, in violation of the First Amendment, by opening the majority of their meetings with a prayer based on Christianity, The Associated Press reported.

The town is home to about 100,000 people — where Christianity is the dominant religion — and has opened every council meeting between 1999 and 2007, and again from January 2009 and June 2010, with a Christian-based prayer, court documents say.

Two residents complained in 2008 and council officials, in response, allowed four of the next 12 meetings to be opened in prayer by non-Christians — a Jewish man, a Wiccan priestess and a local Baha’i congregation chairman, AP said.

But the two residents who complained went ahead with a lawsuit anyway. On appeals, they won. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the town was guilty of endorsing Christianity because members allowed so many Christian prayers, AP reported.

So Greece officials challenged that appeal, citing a 1983 Supreme Court case that gave local governments broad discretion with meeting prayers, saying such shows of faith were part and parcel of the nation’s fabric and founding roots. The Supreme Court is due to hear the Greece case this Wednesday.

The White House, citing the 1983 precedent, said Greece did not act improperly.

“Courts should not parse or evaluate the content of prayer,” said Solicitor General Donald Verrilli in his brief, citing the 1983 case, AP reported.

Mr. Verrilli also said in his brief that Congress opens its legislative sessions with prayer — a tradition that goes back to the nation’s founding. And so does the Supreme Court, which petitions God for protection at the start of each public session.