The Supreme Court on Monday narrowly upheld the centuries-old tradition of offering prayers to open government meetings, even if the prayers are overwhelmingly Christian and citizens are encouraged to participate.
The case was the Town of Greece, New York versus Galloway. The pdf file ruling is found here. The decision was 5-4 along Republican-Democratic appointee lines.
The opening line of the first amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;...."
That line has always seemed straightforward to me. Government is prohibited from "establishing religion" through legislation or practice.....government should also make no prohibition against religious practice.
As I've argued before, prayer is a religious exercise. I am not religious.....I do not pray. To attempt to define or describe prayer as anything other than an expression of religion is, I think, an act of disingenuousness.
That said, here's Justice Kennedy's take....
"The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce non-believers," he said.
Here, Kennedy is arguing that Greece, New York town council prayers are first, "ceremonial", and second, for "the purpose and effect of acknowledging religious leaders and the institutions they represent." That seems like a silly statement. Local religious leaders can simply be introduced and asked to briefly share their churches information before a meeting begins in earnest.....if an acknowledgment of local religious leaders is desired. A religious leader offering an opening prayer is not required....at all...for local religious leaders and churches to be acknowledged before a government meeting begins.
Here, Kennedy argues that opening prayers at government meetings are just part of our tradition.....
"As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of 'God save the United States and this honorable court' at the opening of this court's sessions," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
Again, the venue is a government meeting......it would seem to me that the Pledge of Allegiance should suffice, and is far more appropriate, to begin a government meeting. But here, Justice Kennedy offers yet another curious reason why prayer before public meetings is acceptable.....
"The prayer was intended to place town board members in a solemn and deliberative frame of mind, invoke divine guidance in town affairs, and follow a tradition practiced by Congress and dozens of state legislatures."
First, Justice Kennedy states that opening prayers were "ceremonial" to "acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent." In the above Kennedy statement, opening prayer at public meetings serves a practical purpose.....prayer puts "members in a solemn and deliberative mood." Why can't the Pledge suffice in placing council members in a "solemn and deliberative mood?"
Further, isn't Kennedy saying that although government is prohibited from establishing religion, if the religious practice....opening prayers at town meetings....has the practical effect of setting the proper frame of mind for council members and citizen attendees...then government's establishing of religious practices at town meetings is not only desirable, but preferable? Prayer, according to Kennedy, calms people down and makes them focus on the gravity of public decision making.
That is exactly what Kennedy believes government sponsored prayer is for.....
Citing March v Chambers...Kennedy wrote.... "legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society."
Opening prayers at government meetings are not simply a ceremonial exercise.....according to the majority ruling, government sponsored prayer is a crowd calmer, a town council meeting whisperer, as it were. Sorry, Kennedy's argument here is silliness. Again, the Pledge should suffice to start any government meeting.....to help attendees focus on their responsibilities to "the greater good."
One more Keendy-ruling line....
Any test the Court adopts must acknowledge a practice that was accepted by the Framers and has withstood the critical scrutiny of time and political change.
Slavery was "a practice accepted by the Framers." That didn't make the horror of slavery just and right, did it? The Framers also endorsed the limiting of citizens who could cast votes to white male property owners....the Framers accepted that practice....but we don't accept that practice now.
Just because the Framers accepted chaplains in Congress establishing the religious practice of spoken prayer.....doesn't mean that the practice didn't also violate the words that those same Framers wrote down when they prohibited government from passing laws establishing religion in the first amendment. The Framers were not flawless or perfect in their application or interpretation of the Constitution. Contradictions were evident everywhere.
Summarizing....the Supreme Court in 2014 has just handed down a ruling which normalizes a religious practice....prayer....Christian prayer.....before government sponsored public gatherings. The justification for normalizing a sectarian religious exercise at government meetings? "legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, (and) reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences."
That is not an argument as much as it is an endorsement of a government-sponsored religious exercise by the Supreme Court.That is not "separation" of religion from state....it is, rather, fusion of the two.
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