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Kendall Coffey

Kendall Coffey November 7 Spinning the Law

The first case on the Steve Malzberg Show discussed was the recent court case involving the use of prayer during city meetings.  The town of Greece is fighting for the right to keep the tradition of opening meetings with a prayer.

“Of course the Supreme Court session began with these traditional words that included God save the United States and this honorable court. Whatever your religious background, if you have money you will see the words in God we trust. So it is recognized fundamentally that it part of the fabric of our country. Can a prayer or some sort officiating practice go too far? That’s what the case is about. I think the case is a about a lot more than that, potentially, because the whole question of church and state and the dividing line has been a difficult one for the Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see if this case is simply a ‘prayer in a government meeting’ case, or if it will get broader than that. You’ll remember the previous cases about religious displays during the holiday season. It could potentially go as far as whether government funding can be used for religious schools. All of these issues have been waiting for a catalyst from the Supreme Court since Sandra Day O’Connor left the court because she was a key vote who advocated very strict neutrality in church versus state issues. Others take the position that as long as a prayer does not take a role of advocacy for one religion or another. If it’s simply a recognition that this is a solemn or public occasion, we all recognize that even though we are public officials, we are not the highest authority in the land, that sense of the practice is consistently recognized as legitimate. If a prayer takes the form of specifically advocating or disparaging one religion then it is in a different zone.

Kendall Coffey Supreme Court“This particular practice I think is going to be a very close call. I would not be surprised if the Supreme Court validates and supports the town council in allowing this kind of public prayer because of the decision thirty years ago. Recognizing that there is a higher power than any of us is part of our tradition whether it’s on our dollar bills or it’s when the Supreme Court is seated. Keep an eye out not only for the result on this, I suspect the town will win, but whether the opinion is written in such a way that signals further development in what could be an emerging conflict or controversy. Perhaps some new law. This whole concept is emotional, and profoundly important, of church and state.”

The Obama Administration has backed the town of Greece on this issue.

“Yes, that is striking, and part of the reason why I think the town will win. It’s simply not an aggressive or very offensive practice. But let’s see if it is a narrow decision. Let’s see if it is opening the door to a broader reexamination.”

A California police officer won an appeal after being sued for chasing a suspect onto private property without a warrant. Is a homeowner’s expectation of privacy violated when there is no immediate danger.

“There is a very strong legal recognition for the needs of police officers to able to continue a pursuit. The police officer apparently acted in good faith. There had been issues about violence in the area. There had been a disturbance where someone had been threatening someone with a baseball bat. The court held that he was acting in good faith and I don’t think that there will be controversy over the ruling. It was a huge relief to police officers, I’m sure, because if it had gone the other way, could you imagine the dilemma for law enforcement?”

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