WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether a New York town violated the Constitution by opening meetings with prayers that emphasized Christianity.
The request for Supreme Court action in the religious expression case arises from the practice of Greece, N.Y., of opening town board meetings with a prayer, which two residents challenged as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
A lower court said the town was acting within the Constitution, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, saying officials should have done more to reach out people from different faiths.
"This petition presents the question whether a legislative body can allow private citizens to offer an invocation of their choosing at the start of each session to solemnize the proceedings, consistent with two centuries of tradition of legislative prayer in the United States" as well as a previous Supreme Court decision, the petition said.
The petition said Greece, since 1999, has a policy by which any citizen of any faith, "or of no faith," could volunteer to give the invocation at the beginning of town board meetings and never regulated what was said or who said it. The petition said the appeals court relied on a different case to apply and "endorsement," concluding that the proportion of Christian prayers to non-Christian prayers could be viewed by an "ordinary, reasonable observer" as affiliating Greece with the Christian faith.
The petition asked the Supreme Court to consider whether the appeals court erred in holding the town's practice violates the Establishment Clause in the absence of "discrimination in the selection of prayer-givers or forbidden exploitation of the prayer opportunity."
In a live blog as the court actions were announced, ScotusBlog.com noted Greece vs. Galloway could be a "potentially significant religion case" because the court under Chief Justice John Roberts hasn't considered many such cases.
The Supreme Court granted four other petitions Monday.
Lawson vs. FMR LLC asked the Supreme Court to consider employees of a privately held contractor or subcontractor of a public company are protected from retaliation under the whistle-blower protections of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
In Northwest, Inc. vs. Ginsberg, the justices were asked to consider whether airline passengers removed from a "frequent flyer" list have the right, under state law, to sue the airline for allegedly violating a promise that the passengers could enjoy the benefits, arguing that such claims are pre-empted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act.
Medtronic Inc. vs. Boston Scientific Corp. asked the court to settle a dispute concerning the rights of patent owners of a medical device, determining who has the burden of proof when the patent license holder is accused of infringing on the owner's exclusive rights.
In Fernandez vs. California, the court was asked to further define whether police may enter a home without a warrant for a search when the home is occupied by two individuals but consent to search was given by only one of the occupants.
The justices upheld a lower federal court decision that left intact the 2011 Mississippi state Legislature elections in a challenge by the state's NAACP chapter, which sought new elections by contending existing maps used in the 2011 elections were out of date based on population numbers from the 2010 Census, ScotusBlog.com said. The Legislature's new district maps won't be in effect until the 2015 elections.