(JTA) — The need for a firm barrier between church and state is as clear now for Susan Galloway as it was in grade school, when she was expected to sing carols at the Christmas show.
Galloway grew up in McHenry, Ill., a town northwest of Chicago with few other Jews, and the carols sung in school made ample mention of Jesus. Galloway refused to take part.
“It was against everything I was taught,” Galloway told JTA.
As an adult living in the Rochester, N.Y., suburb of Greece, Galloway encountered a similar problem. Each town board meeting would open with a Christian prayer that mentioned Jesus. She and a friend, Linda Stephens, both became uncomfortable.
Now the effort by Galloway and Stephens to stop it has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments were held last week in a case that could substantially redefine the scope of acceptable prayers in public venues across the country.
“They’re asking us to bow our heads, they’re asking us to join them in the Lord’s Prayer, they’re asking us to stand — all of this is in the name of Jesus Christ,” Galloway, 51, said in an interview last week. “This one guy went on about the resurrection. We have preachers who stand there with their hands in the air.”
Galloway’s day in court is the culmination of six years of legal battles that began after she started attending board meetings regularly in a bid to save the local public access television channel. Initially she and Stephens appealed to the board supervisor, but they were relegated to subordinates who told them to get over it.
“They basically told us we could leave or put up with it,” Galloway said. “I was offended.”
They sought backing from outside groups, but many turned them away. Especially hurtful for Galloway was the deaf ear from the Rochester Board of Rabbis.