The Establishment Clause is a clause that comes from the First Amendment of the United States. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.[1]

In a recent Supreme Court decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway, it highlights the struggle between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, which embodies the issues most justices have struggled to come to terms with: whether the law is promoting a religious affiliation, whether the law is infringing on religious beliefs, and where to draw the line when deciding how Establishment Clause violations should be tested. The central question in the case was whether a town in New York called Greece, was in violation of the Establishment clause by allowing town meetings to hold prayers which respondents claimed to favor the Christian religion. There was never any reviews of the prayers that were given in these town meetings due to the belief that trying to exercise any control of these prayers would violate the free exercise and free speech rights that the minister had as they would give these prayers.[2] Eventually, there were several citizens who filed a suit against these prayers claiming the Establishment Clause was being violated because they felt that the Christian faith was being favored over other faiths in the prayers.[3]  In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the court ruled that these prayers which were invocated in the meetings were not unconstitutional and relied on the fact that these so called legislative prayers were ongoing and uninterrupted for years before there was any claim against them. Town of Greece v. Galloway in essence relied on a historical analysis to determine that the Establishment Clause was not being violated by the town. This is not truly a standard held by the Lemon Test which is the widely held Establishment Clause test. It is a three-prong test meant to prove that law or legislation violates the Establishment clause if it does not have a secular legislative purpose, if its primary effect advances or inhibits religion, and if it fosters excessive government entanglement with religion. Town of Greece v. Galloway begs the question of whether a historical use of specific religious practices in certain areas should be analyzed while applying the Lemon Test as an aid to determine whether there has been a violation.


[1] See U.S. CONST. amend. I.

[2] See Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway, 572 U.S. 565, 571 (2014).

[3] See Town of Greece, N.Y, 572 U.S. at 565 (stating “respondents, citizens who attend meetings to speak on local issues, filed suit, alleging that the town violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by preferring Christians over other prayer givers and by sponsoring sectarian prayers.”).