Linda Stephens doesn’t look like someone spoiling for a fight. She is slight and soft-spoken, favors bright-colored corduroys, and pins her long, grey hair to the side with bobby pins. She worked for two decades as a school librarian, then retired to a yellow house on a quiet, tree-lined street in upstate New York. But five years ago, Stephens and her friend Susan Galloway grew tired of sitting through Christian prayer sessions at their Town Board meetings. So they sued. And what began as a small dispute in a town of 96,000 will end, years later, in the Supreme Court.
This morning, the Court will hear oral arguments in Greece v. Galloway. Stephens (who is an atheist) and Galloway (who is Jewish) jointly sued their town in 2008. They claimed that the town of Greece violated the Constitution by opening its monthly Town Board meetings with a Christian prayer for nearly a decade. (In 2008, after Stephens and Galloway complained about the prayer practice, the town invited three non-Christians to deliver the prayer.) Specifically, Stephens and Galloway argued that the town’s prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The text of the Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but the provision has been interpreted more broadly to prohibit any government body from aligning itself with a religion. Establishment Clause jurisprudence is notoriously chaotic, and Greece v. Galloway is one of the more high-profile cases of the term. Court watchers are speculating that the Court may seize Galloway as an opportunity to impose order onto a famously scattershot corner of the law.