A Nebraska case decided 30 years ago comes up for review by the United States Supreme Court as the justices decide whether a city in New York is violating the Constitution by opening council meetings in prayer.
The 2nd United States Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Greece, New York, a suburb of Rochester, did indeed violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by consistently beginning council sessions with a decidedly Christian prayer.
In 1983, the high court ruled against Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha who filed a lawsuit that claimed the Unicameral violated the First Amendment by opening each day’s session with prayer. The court ruled that an opening prayer is part of the nation’s fabric and not a violation of the First Amendment.
University of Nebraska Lincoln Constitutional Law Professor Rick Duncan doesn’t see the court overrule its 1983 precedent.
“Think the court’s going to apply the historical test of Marsh v. Chambers and simply say, ‘Hey, we started this very session of the court with God save the United States and this honorable court.’ There is absolutely nothing wrong with legislature or judicial prayer to begin a session of the legislature or the court,” Duncan tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.
Duncan expects the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court, re-enforcing the decision it reached in 1983 that upheld the right of the Unicameral to open sessions with a prayer.
“And, I think the reason the court took this case was to reverse the 2nd Circuit that had basically struck down the legislative prayer in that city council,” Duncan says. “The Nebraska precedent, Marsh v. Chambers, will be at the center of this argument.”
Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this report.