Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Podcast: Is the Supreme Court taking down the wall between church and state?

May 6, 2014 by NCC Staff


A divided Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a New York town that allowed sectarian prayers before local government meetings. But what does this decision really mean for the separation of church and state?


US_Supreme_Court_Building-400x300Legal scholars are still parsing the decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, where the Supreme Court said in a 5-4 decision it would overturn a lower court ruling that restricted prayer at Greece, New York, board meetings.


In the Town of Greece case, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the plurality opinion, where he was joined by the Court’s four other conservatives at various points.


Kennedy said “a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition” was acceptable as long as prayers don’t “coerce participation by nonadherents.” Justice Elena Kagan wrote a spirited dissent in which she strongly disagreed with the Town of Greece ruling.


But as you’ll hear in this podcast, this week’s decision could have far-reaching impacts on more First Amendment religion cases heading toward the Supreme Court, on everything from how local school boards decide on prayers, to the use of religious symbols at public school graduation ceremonies.


Joining us to discuss what this case means in specific terms, and in broader First Amendment terms, are two leading experts on the subject.


Erwin Chemerinsky is the founding Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.


Scott Gaylord is Jennings Professor at the Elon University School of Law and he specializes in First Amendment issues.


To listen to the entire podcast, click on the following link or use the player below: Download this episode (right click and save)


Recent Constitution Daily Stories


Constitution Check: Is the line between church and state shifting?


Supreme Court rules in favor of public legislative prayers


Supreme Court denies potential major guns rights case


Sign up for our email newsletter