Excerpts from oral arguments in prayer case

Justice Elena Kagan:

“What troubles me about this case is that here a citizen is going to a local community board, supposed to be the closest, the most responsive institution of government that exists, and is immediately being asked, being forced to identify whether she believes in the things that most of the people in the room believe in, whether she belongs to the same religious team as most of the people in the room do. And it strikes me that that might be inconsistent with this understanding that when we relate to our government, we all do so as Americans, and not as Jews and not as Christians and not as nonbelievers.

Thomas C. Hungar, representing the town of Greece:

The core of Establishment Clause concern is coercion or conduct that is so extreme that it leads to the establishment of a religion because it is putting the government squarely behind one faith to the exclusion of others, and that’s clearly not — not what’s going on here.

Justice Antonin Scalia:

“It seems to me that you’re missing here is — and this is what distinguishes legislative prayer from other kinds —the people who are on the town board or the representatives who are in Congress, they’re citizens. They are there as citizens. The judges here are not -- we’re not here as citizens. And as citizens, they bring, they bring to their job all of -- all of the predispositions that citizens have. And these people perhaps invoke the deity at meals. They should not be able to invoke it before they undertake a serious governmental task such as enacting laws or ordinances?

Douglas Laycock, representing the challengers:

“We haven’t said they can’t invoke the deity or have a prayer, and they can certainly pray any way they want silently or just before the meeting. We’ve said they cannot impose sectarian prayer on the citizenry, and that is very different from what Congress does, it is very different from what this court does.”

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.
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