Thomas Roberts   |  November 06, 2013

SCOTUS hears arguments in public prayer

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding prayer at government meetings. NBC News' Pete Williams discusses.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> developing right now, the u.s. supreme court just finished hearing arguments in a major first amendment case involving prayer at government meetings. at issue, whether an upstate new york town starting its council meetings with a prayer violates the separation of church and state . the decision from the high court could have, could have a far-reaching impact. nbc news justice correspondent pete williams is live for us outside the supreme court for us this morning. pete, what did we hear this morning?

>> reporter: this is the town of greece , which is a suburb of rochester, new york. a lower court said that the problem is that the town of greece prayers were almost exclusively christian and that was challenged by two residents of the town, one is jewish and one atheist. and they said that they in essence felt compelled to pray. now, the problem is for the supreme court , right across the street here, the congress has opened every session throughout our entire history with a prayer from a paid chaplain. 30 years ago, the supreme court said there's nothing wrong with that in legislatures. the question is, is there something different about these local meetings, where somebody is basically asking for something from the town and told beforehand that they have to join in a prayer that they may disagree with, that they're not going to sit down an not take the prayer because that might offend the very people they're asking for something. here is a hypothetical question that began today's oral argument from justice alana kagan. she said suppose at the beginning of the supreme court session the chief justice stood up in front of everybody, talked about how jesus died on the cross, made the sign of the cross . she said would that be allowable? the lawyer for the town said, well maybe not. she said, what if it's in the beginning of a congressional hearing ? that's the problem for the court. they don't seem to be willing to do one thing that was potentially an issue here. there was no indication at all. the supreme court says you can't have prayer at the beginning of a government meeting. the only question here is, is there any way to set guidance or limits on the kind of prayers allowed.

>> pete williams from the supreme court for us. thank you.