CHARLESTON — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced today that West Virginia recently joined 22 other states in an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that declared a New York town’s practice of opening its legislative sessions with prayer as violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The brief was filed in the case of Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway. It asks the U.S. Supreme Court to create an unambiguous ruling permitting prayer before legislative bodies without requiring legislative leaders to screen prayers for sectarian references.
“West Virginia and other states filed this brief because opening a legislative session with prayer dates back to the founding of our Republic,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “West Virginia has a proud tradition of beginning a public meeting with a time for prayer, and I believe this practice should continue and the free expression of faith should not be quashed.”
In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled legislative prayer to be constitutional and not in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as long as the prayer didn’t proselytize, advance or disparage any one religion. However, various rulings at the appellate court level in the three decades since have created confusion over what can be said, who can say it and whether lawmakers are required to screen prayers first.
The West Virginia Legislature is among the 49 states that opens its legislative sessions with prayer. The Senate President and House Speaker each designate one member of the chamber to act as its chaplain. The chaplains provide a short, non-denominational prayer at the start of the session, unless a citizen is invited in by a member of the respective chamber to give the opening prayer.
Oral arguments in Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway will take place during the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming term.
Attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia also joined in the amicus brief.