(CNSNews.com) - Atheists told the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday that the town of Greece, N.Y. has no business opening its public meetings with Christian or other sectarian prayers.
"We hope the Supreme Court will agree that civic participation should not be conditioned on compromising one's religious scruples," said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan.
"It's important to understand that we are not asking the board to discontinue its practice of presenting prayers," she told reporters outside the court. "We are asking that citizens not be pressured to participate in those prayers and that the prayers be nondenominational and inclusive."
"I do not support the right to use the power of government to impose on religious minorities, and that's what's going on here," said Douglas Laycock, who argued the case for the plaintiffs.
He called the town's prayer practices "highly coercive" as well as a sectarian endorsement, both of which "violate all the principles of the Establishment Clause."
According to Laycock, "Both sides of the (Supreme) Court, both the liberals and the conservatives, have agreed sectarian endorsements are prohibited and coercion is prohibited, and we have both those things in this case."
Religious coercion -- being forced to compromise one's "religious scruples" -- is at the heart of another issue that is expected to make its way to the Supreme Court.
If government can't trample atheists' "religious scruples," and if "coercion is prohibited," can the Obama administration force Roman Catholics to buy health insurance that covers services, which violate church teachings?
Forcing Catholics, under penalty of a fine, to pay for birth control, abortifacients, and sterilization, for example -- all of which violate Catholics' deeply held religious beliefs -- is an unconstitutional infringement of religious liberty, they argue.
It should be noted that the The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which led the charge against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, sided with the town of Greece, against the atheists, in Wednesday's arguments.
"The Founders knew what it meant to have a state church and legislative prayer doesn't come close," said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund.
"This case is about whether the professionally offended will be able to strong-arm cities into banning anything that could be remotely interpreted as religious."
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