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Supreme Court case on public prayer underway

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7 2013 4:05 p.m. MST

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

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The Supreme Court heard opening arguments Wednesday on a case that could decide the place of prayer in legislative meetings, and what role religion plays in the public sphere.

In the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, the small New York town was asking the Supreme Court if it was constitutional to hold prayer before its legislative meetings after an appeals court ruled it unconstitutional, according to the Deseret News.

And, according to Reuters, “when the U.S. Supreme Court talks about religion, all hell breaks loose.” One judge of the Supreme Court felt similarly, according to Reuters. "Every time the court gets involved in things like this, it seems to make the problem worse rather than better,” Justice Elena Kagan told Reuters.

“Overall, the justices' remarks were more pessimistic than positive regarding a possible consensus,” reported Reuters. “They voiced frustration with the lawyers who appeared before them and with each other as well.”

Arguments presented “produced an unusually testy oral-argument session on Wednesday that recalled the decades of difficulty Supreme Court justices have had drawing the line between church and state,” according to Reuters.

The Associated Press also released its report of the arguments heard Wednesday.

“The tenor of the argument indicated the justices would not agree with the appellate ruling. But it was not clear what decision they might come to instead,” reported the AP.

The Beckett Fund published the transcript from the opening arguments. Attorney Thomas Hungar explained his case for keeping prayer at the start of legislative meetings in Greece, while the Supreme Court questioned Hungar and fellow attorneys about the constitutionality of prayer in legislative meetings.

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate wrote that religious controversies have been a longstanding tradition in American culture. She also outlined and commented on the oral arguments heard on Wednesday.

“It’s all a huge mess with a lot of judicial hair-pulling, and now somebody has to decide whether the town of Greece crossed the line into establishing religion with their several years of exclusively Christian prayer,” she wrote.

USA Today also commented on the court case and called it a tricky one.

“Crafting a constitutionally acceptable rule that will satisfy those of all faiths (and those of no faith) might require the same sort of goodwill and self-restraint that worked to lower the temperature of the school-prayer battle and the so-called war on Christmas,” USA Today said.

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @hscribner

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