High court ruling favors prayer at council meeting

High court ruling favors prayer at council meeting

Monday – 5/5/2014, 12:46pmĀ  ET

FILE – In this March 18, 2014 file photo, Pastor Mike Metzger, right, of First Bible Baptist Church, leads a moment of prayer at the start of the Greece Town Board meeting in Greece, N.Y. The Supreme Court said Monday that prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)

MARK SHERMAN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity, a divided Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The court said in 5-4 decision that the content of the prayers is not significant as long as they do not denigrate non-Christians or proselytize.

The ruling by the court’s conservative majority was a victory for the town of Greece, N.Y., outside of Rochester. The Obama administration sided with the town.

In 1983, the court upheld an opening prayer in the Nebraska legislature and said that prayer is part of the nation’s fabric, not a violation of the First Amendment. Monday’s ruling was consistent with the earlier one.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation’s traditions.

“The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers,” Kennedy said.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court’s four liberal justices, said, “I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality — the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian.”

Kagan said the case differs significantly from the 1983 decision because “Greece’s town meetings involve participation by ordinary citizens, and the invocations given — directly to those citizens — were predominantly sectarian in content.”

A federal appeals court in New York ruled that Greece violated the Constitution by opening nearly every meeting over an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity.

From 1999 through 2007, and again from January 2009 through June 2010, every meeting was opened with a Christian-oriented invocation. In 2008, after residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens complained, four of 12 meetings were opened by non-Christians, including a Jewish layman, a Wiccan priestess and the chairman of the local Baha’i congregation.

A town employee each month selected clerics or lay people by using a local published guide of churches. The guide did not include non-Christian denominations, however. The appeals court found that religious institutions in the town of just under 100,000 people are primarily Christian, and even Galloway and Stephens testified they knew of no non-Christian places of worship there.

The two residents filed suit and a trial court ruled in the town’s favor, finding that the town did not intentionally exclude non-Christians. It also said that the content of the prayer was not an issue because there was no desire to proselytize or demean other faiths.

But a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that even with the high court’s 1983 ruling, the practice of having one Christian prayer after another amounted to the town’s endorsement of Christianity.

Kennedy, however, said judges should not be involved in evaluating the content of prayer because it could lead to legislatures requiring “chaplains to redact the religious content from their message in order to make it acceptable for the public sphere.”

He added, “Government may not mandate a civic religion that stifles any but the most generic reference to the sacred any more than it may prescribe a religious orthodoxy.”

Kennedy himself was the author an opinion in 1992 that held that a Christian prayer delivered at a high school graduation did violate the Constitution. The justice said Monday there are differences between the two situations, including the age of the audience and the fact that attendees at the council meeting may step out of the room if they do not like the prayer.

Kennedy and his four colleagues in the majority all are Catholic. They are: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In her dissent, Kagan said the council meeting prayers are unlike those said to open sessions of Congress and state legislatures, where elected officials are the intended audience. In Greece, “the prayers there are directed squarely at the citizens,” she said. Kagan was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Of the four, three are Jewish and Sotomayor is Catholic.

Kagan also noted what she described as the meetings’ intimate setting, with 10 or so people sitting in front of the town’s elected and top appointed officials. Children and teenagers are likely to be present, she said.

The case is Greece v. Galloway, 12-696

Court rules: President Obama exceeded his power when he bypassed the Senate.

Second court invalidates Obama appointments to labor board

Published May 16, 2013

FoxNews.com

  • blog insert Jan 25
A national labor board which has long been accused of making union-friendly decisions was dealt another blow Thursday, after a second federal appeals court found President Obama exceeded his power when he bypassed the Senate to appoint its members.The ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia once again threatened to upend the National Labor Relations Board’s decisions. And it has the potential to stall the board entirely, as well as challenge other federal agencies that have similar appointees.For now, the Obama administration has tried to disregard the court decisions — it has already appealed a similar ruling, from a Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to the Supreme Court.In the 2-1 decision from the Philadelphia court, judges said Obama had no constitutional authority to install attorney Craig Becker to the labor board in 2010 while the Senate was adjourned for two weeks.

This is what’s known as a recess appointment. But the court said that under the Constitution recess appointments can be made only between sessions of the Senate, not any time the Senate is away on a break.

“If the Senate refused to confirm a president’s nominees, then the president could circumvent the Senate’s constitutional role simply by waiting until senators go home for the evening,” Judge D. Brooks Smith wrote in a 102-page decision.

The administration argues that such an interpretation would invalidate hundreds of recess appointments made by presidents over more than 100 years.

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, emboldened by the decision, said Thursday that the ruling challenges Obama’s “unprecedented power grab.

“It’s time for the unlawfully appointed nominees to step down,” he said.

Both rulings have threatened to throw the labor board, the Consumer Financial Protection Board and other federal agencies with recess appointees into chaos. If they stand, hundreds of decisions by these agencies could be thrown out.

Obama has made 32 recess appointments during his presidency, nearly all of which would be considered invalid under the interpretation of these courts. The rulings could also threaten the recess appointments of previous presidents. President George W. Bush made 141 such appointments in eight years.

The ruling, incidentally, came as a Senate panel considered a slate of five nominees for full terms on the labor board. Senate Republicans said Thursday they would oppose two of the nominees — Sharon Block and Richard Griffin — because they currently sit on the board as recess appointments.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, senior Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he would not consider Block and Griffin because they refused to step down from the board after the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that they were unconstitutionally appointed. Block and Griffin said they wanted to abide by their oath to serve their country and argued that appeals courts have reached different conclusions about recess powers.

Democrats on the panel accused Republicans of obstructionism because the GOP and its allies in the business community have been unhappy with some of the union-friendly decisions issued by the board during Obama’s administration. Unions warn that unless the nominees are confirmed soon, the board will be unable to function. It only has three members now, and the term of board chairman Mark Pearce expires in August.

A lengthy dissent came from Judge Joseph Greenaway Jr., who was appointed by Obama and joined the court in 2010. Greenaway said that under the majority’s decision, the recess appointment power “is essentially neutered and the president’s ability to make recess appointments would be eviscerated.”

The case was brought by New Vista, a New Jersey nursing and rehabilitative care center that argued its nurses were supervisors who were not allowed to form a union. The labor board ruled in favor of the union and New Vista appealed. The company argued that the board did not have enough validly appointed members to reach a decision because Becker was not a valid appointee.

The labor board has five seats and needs at least three sitting members to conduct business. At the time of the New Vista ruling, it had the minimum of three, but one member was Becker, the recess appointee.

Becker is no longer on the NLRB, but the current board also has only three members, two of whom are Obama recess appointees. More than a hundred companies have appealed NLRB decisions this year arguing that the board does not have enough validly appointed members to conduct business.