Jewish groups decry Supreme Courts prayer ruling

An array of Jewish groups criticized a Supreme Court decision this week allowing prayers at town hall meetings.

The 5-4 decision along conservative-liberal lines handed down May 5 reversed a lower appeals court decision in favor of a lawsuit brought by Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, in the town of Greece in upstate New York.

Since 1999, the town board has opened meetings with a prayer, almost always by a Christian clergyman who at times proselytized.

The plaintiffs held that the prayers should be nonsectarian, a position the Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled overextended government reach.

A number of Jewish groups, which had filed friend-of-the court briefs, condemned the decision.

The Anti-Defamation League in its statement called the ruling “deeply disturbing” and noted the circumstances of the Greece case, in which opening prayers involved not just lawmakers but citizens petitioning their town council.

“The religiously divisive implications of this new rule are troubling in any of these contexts, however it is particularly disturbing at the local level where ordinary citizens seek recourse from public officials and will likely feel pressured to participate in religious observances not of their own faith,” the ADL said.

Also condemning the decision were the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the American Jewish Committee. — jta