David Silverman over at American Atheists sent out a email today saying that,
“the Supreme Court has struck yet another blow against the wall of separation between church and state by allowing explicitly (and exclusively) Christian prayer to open town meetings in Greece, New York for more than a decade.”
Now I’ve been in the military for a while now and I am used to chaplains giving invocations, convocations and prayers at every ceremony we have. While I never take part in the the prayer and find them a bit annoying I understand that it’s a tradition and traditions are very slow to change.
The reasoning the Justice used for reversing the appeals courts decision was Marsh v. Chambers. March v. Chambers upheld the state of Nebraska’s practice of opening legislative sessions with a state-appointed chaplain.
Honestly with this one I can see why there was a 5-4 split among the justices. Yes, they had predominately christian prayer for over a decade. Yes, they never looked for diverse religious groups for the prayer. However, the separation between church and state is about the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state. And our First Amendment clearly states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Given that the separation between church and state is about gradation and primarily about making sure no law is established to respect a religion there really is less legal standing for the prevention of prayer in government. Traditions frequently show respect for a religion however, there was no law here to respect one.
Even Justice Kagan said:
“I believe that pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality; such a forum need not become a religion-free zone.”
I believe that government should not show favoritism to any one religion. An that is where the big problem in this case comes in. The town of Greece should be required to be plural if they are going to have prayer at town meetings. In practice I don’t care if people want to pray but if they are going to do it in tax payer funded places they better make sure that it’s not exclusive to one religion, event the armed forces doesn’t allow that. I have to agree with Justice Kagan:
“…the Town of Greece should lose this case. The practice at issue here differs from the one sustained in Marsh because Greece’s town meetings involve participation by ordinary citizens, and the invocations given—directly to those citizens—were predominantly sectarian in content. Still more, Greece’s Board did nothing to recognize religious diversity: In arranging for clergy members to open each meeting, the Town never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve, accommodate, or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions. So month in and month out for over a decade, prayers steeped in only one faith, addressed toward members of the public, commenced meetings to discuss local affairs and distribute government benefits. In my view, that practice does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.”
I really wish that instead of a win-lose situation it could have ended in a compromise. If you want to have a prayer at your meeting, fine. But make sure you rotate in some other religions and non-religions. This way they are respecting all beliefs and not just the ones of the majority.