Susan Galloway's Supreme Court Church-State Fight Began With Christmas Carols

Discovered Need for Jews To Protect Boundaries as Child

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By Ron Kampeas

Published November 11, 2013.
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“I presented the issue, and I hoped other rabbis would see it that way,” said Rabbi Simeon Kolko, a childhood friend of Galloway who agreed to make the case on her behalf. “There was not a willingness.”

Rabbi Larry Kotok, the board president, did not respond to a request for comment.

At first, Galloway said, she and Stephens felt ostracized; then it got worse. Threatening letters came in, some signed “666,” the Christian signifier of the devil. Stephens’ home was vandalized. Galloway believes hers was spared because she lives on a busy street.

But Galloway refused to be cowed — a product, she said, of an upbringing that stressed believing in the best of others. A soft-spoken rehabilitation specialist who works with the elderly — “I love bubbies!” — Galloway concedes a stubborn streak.

“I wanted to believe if you have a conversation with people and you explain to them a point of view and they understand something, there’s a way to work the issue out,” she said. “But they did not want to talk or negotiate or anything.”

With the assistance of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Galloway and Stephens pressed the issue. At first the town seemed responsive, opening up the sessions to prayers of other faiths four times in 2008. But the sides couldn’t settle and the matter went to the courts.

The fact that the Supreme Court is taking the case is not necessarily good news for Galloway. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled on her behalf, but when the Supreme Court considers appeals from lower courts it mostly intends to reverse the decision.

Still, Galloway has accrued the support — from Jewish and non-Jewish groups — she felt was missing in the case’s early days. An array of major organizations — including the Reform movement, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee — have filed friend-of-the-court briefs on her behalf.

“It sends a message to people who are coming that maybe they don’t belong, maybe they will be treated differently,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director for the NCJW. “It creates a climate that makes folks feel like they’re not necessarily part of the political process.”


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