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Implications of High Court ruling on Vt. Town Meeting Day prayer - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Implications of High Court ruling on Vt. Town Meeting Day prayer

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BURLINGTON, Vt. - The U.S. Supreme Court has made a ruling in favor of prayer at Town Meeting Day, but it's not likely to change case law here in Vermont.

The high court's ruling is based on a case out of Greece, New York.  Two women claimed Christian-only prayers before town meetings violated their first amendment rights.

"I thought what we were doing was as common as the pledge of allegiance to the flag when we're opening," said Bill Reilich, Greece's Town Supervisor.

And in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court gave cities and towns across the country its blessing to hold prayers before official meetings, even if the majority of those prayers are from one faith.  The High Court called the prayers ceremonial and in keeping with the nation's traditions.

"I do not expect this decision to have any immediate impact here in Vermont," said the Vermont Law School constitutional law expert Cheryl Hanna. She says the decision will not overrule a court decision in Vermont from 2012. In that ruling a Vermont judge sided with Marilyn Hackett, a Franklin resident who sued her town to ban prayer at Town Meeting Day.  

"In Vermont, the court has said such prayers are coercive and do exclude people from government because people feel like, 'I have to pray in order to be part of politics,'" Hanna said.

Hanna says the difference here is that Vermont has its own Constitution -- different from the federal Constitution. And religion's role was interpreted differently by the two courts. "Now that doesn't mean at a certain point in the future the Vermont Supreme Court could look at this issue and be guided by the court's reasoning but the Supreme Court's reasoning is not binding on the Vermont court," Hanna said.

Hanna says it's likely there will be a challenge here in Vermont, but in the end she expects prayer at Town Meeting will still be unconstitutional here. That's because she says the makeup of Vermont's High Court is more like the dissenting justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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