Sens. Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee support N.Y. town praying at public meetings

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7 2013 3:15 p.m. MDT

Sen. Michael S. Lee, R-Utah, right, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2013.

J. Scott Applewhite, AP

WASHINGTON — Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee joined 32 colleagues in signing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a New York town's legal fight to pray at public meetings.

The brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court came after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the town of Greece had violated the U.S. Constitution by allowing board meetings to open with prayer. The high court is expected to hear the case in its upcoming term.

"The Supreme Court has distorted the religion clauses of the First Amendment more than almost any other," Hatch said in a statement. "Legislative prayers are as old as America and courts have no business regulating them. This case allows the Supreme Court to return to constitutional sanity on this issue."

Greece has allowed residents of any faith to open its monthly board meeting with prayer since 1999, and no volunteer has been denied the opportunity. The town has never asked to review a prayer before its delivery, or restricted a prayer’s content. Although prayers have been offered by people of various faiths — ranging from Jews to Wiccans — most have identified themselves as Christians, according to the brief.

Local residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens claimed in a lawsuit that continued Christian prayers at the opening of town meetings is unconstitutional.

The Second Circuit agreed, finding that "an objective, reasonable person would believe that the town’s prayer practice had the effect of affiliating the town with Christianity."

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy; DNewsPolitics

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