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Monday, May 5, 2014

Supreme Court Punches Hole in Church/State Wall of Separation

Posted by on Mon, May 5, 2014 at 8:10 AM


The court said in 5-4 decision that the content of the prayers is not significant as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion. The ruling was a victory for the town of Greece, N.Y., outside of Rochester.... Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation’s traditions. “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 nonbelievers,” Kennedy said.


The court ruled in favor of the town of Greece, N.Y., a Rochester suburb that has opened its monthly public meetings with a Christian prayer since 1999. Two residents, one Jewish and the other atheist, claimed that because the prayers were almost always Christian, the practice amounted to government endorsement of a single faith.

ThinkProgress wrote up the case last year when the court agreed to hear it:

Eight years ago, in an opinion warning of the “violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government,” retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor offered a challenge to her fellow conservative justices eager to weaken the wall of separation between church and state: “[t]hose who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?” Today, there are five justices on the Supreme Court who would trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly.

And now they've made the swap. Conservative Christians are celebrating the ruling. I'm looking forward to cries of "Sharia law!" and "Anti-Christian persecution!" when a town with a Muslim majority decides to begin all their city council sessions with Imam offering prayers to Allah.


Comments (46) RSS

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1 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
This doesn't change anything. Short, ceremonial prayers have always been allowed before government meetings (and were quite common through most of US history). The quotation from O'Connor has nothing to do with the issues in question in this case. That quotation was from a case where Kentucky was basically explicitly stating that their state law is taken from the bible.
Posted by MRM on May 5, 2014 at 8:34 AM · Report this
fletc3her 3
We've already seen how bigots respond when an actual attempt at inclusion is made. Remember when Republican representatives walked out when a local imam addressed the Washington state legislature.

On one hand I think the whole thing is a bit silly, but I know that the goal of the right wingers is actually to have the government endorse their religion and send a message to non-christians that they are not truly welcome so, boo.
Posted by fletc3her on May 5, 2014 at 8:34 AM · Report this
@3 And if someone finds a prayer by an unelected spiritualist to be an inappropriate way to begin a civic meeting, then they must not be normal.

But no, its not exclusionary or coercive at all.
Posted by dirge on May 5, 2014 at 8:50 AM · Report this
Leishalynn 5
I disagree, Seattleblues. Freedom *of* religion doesn't exist without freedom *from* religion, or people are forced to take part in or endorse a belief, rite, prayer, or statement they don't understand or don't agree with.
Posted by Leishalynn on May 5, 2014 at 8:50 AM · Report this
@ 3 Dude its right there in the first sentence, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Ok fine a short prayer can be ok but if it not a Christian one would you be ok with that?
Posted by dkjndmsahksdhksal on May 5, 2014 at 8:51 AM · Report this

Danny doesn't mind when Humanists use government to force their beliefs on others.....
Posted by actually its sad, not funny. on May 5, 2014 at 8:55 AM · Report this
"I'm looking forward to cries of "Sharia law!" and "Anti-Christian persecution!" when a town with a Muslim majority decides to begin all their city council sessions with Imam offering prayers to Allah."

Oh, yes, please, please, please! This needs to happen, and soon. "Christian" America is long overdue their wake-the-fuck-up call. And, I say that with the deepest respect to our Muslim brothers and sisters. All people deserve the right to practice, or not practice, their own religion. "Christians" need to be reminded from time to time that this is a secular society, and the government is neither their enemy nor their co-parishioner. True religious freedom only exists with pure government neutrality. Neither restriction nor endorsement should be permitted.

Please, Muslim-majority town council somewhere in America, invite the press, invite Fox news, and dedicate the invocation prayer, and your city government, to Mohammed. We need this.
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on May 5, 2014 at 8:58 AM · Report this
Foghorn Leghorn 9
Prayers are against my religion. Is the city going to force me to violate my Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs?
Posted by Foghorn Leghorn on May 5, 2014 at 9:00 AM · Report this

The Constitutional intent was the separation of Church and State. By that the Founding Fathers were specifically referencing the Anglican Church of England, which formed a secondary governing body, in addition to the State, and which imposed itself on all Protestant sects outside itself.

The Constitution was not intending to separate Man from his religion or faith, but merely to insure that a religious hierarchy does not superimpose itself on government. However, individuals, even those inside Government, are free to have religious expression. This was one of the main drivers for the founding of the Colonies and the creation of that amendment right.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on May 5, 2014 at 9:01 AM · Report this
and 'xtian' is not a single religion.

an evangelical would gag at the prayer of a catholic who would gag at the prayer of a mormon who would gag at the prayer of a "progressive" protestant....

the only thing they have in common is being the target of hatred from bigots like danny
Posted by pro tip, danny; bigotry makes you stupid on May 5, 2014 at 9:01 AM · Report this
Fortunate 12
They are shooting themselves in the foot. The separation of church and state protects religion as well as the non-religious.

As the demographics change in this country weakening that wall opens up all sorts of possibilities that these folks will to apoplectic about when they happen. As soon as there is a Muslim majority in an area and the school starts leading the daily prayers you are going to see Christian's blow their stacks.

As Christianity declines and other religions start to take precedence Christians are going to start experiencing what real discrimination feels like, and they are going to wish they had that wall of separation still strongly in place.

Short sighted. I would say they deserve what is going to happen, except that it will effect the rest of us as well.
Posted by Fortunate on May 5, 2014 at 9:02 AM · Report this
Foghorn Leghorn 13
Also: Muslim Majority Town. Is there one? I'm not mocking, just curious. But I'm sure there's probably cities with decent sized minority populations. Enough to get them into the ol' public prayer rotation at least...
Posted by Foghorn Leghorn on May 5, 2014 at 9:03 AM · Report this

yes. you will be dragged in in irons and forced to pray. you might want to prepare something ahead of time. asswipe.
Posted by its always all about you. right? on May 5, 2014 at 9:04 AM · Report this
Banna 15
I like how @3 uses the word "pervert" as if Dan or anyone else reading SLOG comments would view it as an insult.
Posted by Banna on May 5, 2014 at 9:13 AM · Report this
sperifera 16
So now the Citizens United can get together and pray about two disgraceful Supreme Court rulings.
Posted by sperifera on May 5, 2014 at 9:23 AM · Report this

you don't get it, do you sport.

xtians have been living under persecution from state imposed Humanist beliefs for decades.

there is no 'all sort of possibilities'.

there is already the stark reality of state government Humanist discrimination.
Posted by you must have slept thru the revolution on May 5, 2014 at 9:35 AM · Report this
@12 nails it. This ruling stated, quite explicitly, that "the government," in this case the Greece NY City Council, could not be the censor of religion. Therefore, it's only a matter of time until a Pastafarian requests a prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster before a City Council meeting. If they try to deny that, then they will be in violation of the ruling. Inclusion of all faiths is what the Christian Dominionists who sought this ruling fear the most. A prayer to Allah, or Jah, or Baphomet, or Chthulhu -- none of which can now be reasonably denied, according to this ruling -- will make their heads explode, and make them sorry they opened this can of worms.
Posted by Jah love, bitches on May 5, 2014 at 9:39 AM · Report this
Max Solomon 19
there's no Muslim majority town in America, not even in MI, but I sure hope there are Jews, Buddhists, and Native Americans who'll assert their right to pray at civic events in their towns, and soon. maximum discomfort for Christians.
Posted by Max Solomon on May 5, 2014 at 9:40 AM · Report this
My understanding of the case was that the town has offered access to any religion that wants to lead the prayer before the meeting. They've had few takers.

I guess you kind of have to be an asshole to want to give a prayer before a city counsel meeting, and conservative christians kind of have that market cornered.
Posted by GermanSausage on May 5, 2014 at 9:47 AM · Report this
If I was an atheist in Greece, NY, I would petition to get on the prayer docket and use the opportunity to recite George Carlin routines about God.
Posted by wxPDX on May 5, 2014 at 9:50 AM · Report this
Ophian 22
Why does this country insist on being retrograde on most issues of importance? I've always thought America was a pretty good idea; too bad it's never really been tried, and we're obstinately heading in the wrong direction.
Posted by Ophian on May 5, 2014 at 9:52 AM · Report this
An aging pervert hates Christianity?! I'm stunned!

I assume you're referring to the buttsecks-obsessed creep, Antonin Scalia, whose ruling today allows the state to co-opt religion for its own purposes? I'm not religious, myself, but if I were I'd be pretty annoyed when the state tried to do that.
Posted by david jw on May 5, 2014 at 9:58 AM · Report this

who does it better?

have you ever been out of the country?
Posted by maybe Gommorah? on May 5, 2014 at 10:32 AM · Report this

not really.
but you have to be a huge asshole to denigrate others' religious beliefs.
bigotry makes you stupid
Posted by we're guessing you are bald on May 5, 2014 at 10:38 AM · Report this
I'm not denigrating religious beliefs, I'm denigrating the assholes who call for public prayer before city council meetings.

Hell, even the Bible says that people who call for public prayers are assholes.
Posted by GermanSausage on May 5, 2014 at 10:50 AM · Report this
Oh yes, a prayer that ends with "In Jesus's name" excludes no one (no one who is a Christian), and is just a normal start of a secular political meeting.
Posted by sarah70 on May 5, 2014 at 10:53 AM · Report this
We have to remind ourselves again that there are five Catholics on the Court, and Scalia has often said that of course, America is a Christian country.
Posted by sarah70 on May 5, 2014 at 10:54 AM · Report this

so everyone has to conform to your interpretation of the bible.
asshole, heal thyself.
Posted by no one is fooled on May 5, 2014 at 11:30 AM · Report this
venomlash 30
@3: "For normal folks a simple prayer isn't an act of aggression"
Sure, maybe. But "normal folks" haven't been aggressively proselytized to by Christians who can't even read the religious texts they've co-opted from us, much less take the lessons within to heart. "[N]ormal folks" haven't been subjected to discrimination against their very faith in what claims to be the land of liberty and equality. "[N]ormal folks" aren't the targets of rabid calls for their conversion to the religion that some old philistine deems the "normal" one.
For me and my people, it is an act of aggression for Christian prayers to be routinely recited as part of a secular government function. It was an act of aggression even when a kindly (and certainly well-meaning) old man pronounced a Christian blessing on my little sister as she played at the park. It's an act of aggression when Christian conservatives say that we can't call mid-December the "holiday season", but rather insist that Christmas takes primacy.
I'm about to use in earnest a phrase that is deeply over-used. Check. Your. Privilege. You have never, NEVER, faced the prospect of being an outsider in the nation you call your own, never had someone else's culture foisted on you. My people have been outsiders, strangers in many different strange lands, for longer than your religion has even existed.
Posted by venomlash on May 5, 2014 at 11:38 AM · Report this
For what it's worth, in Hawaii, prayers* that call on non-Christian gods and goddesses happen quite regularly at government meetings. I've heard objections both from people who think this violates the separation of church and state, and from those who object to non-Christian prayer, but most people seem to think it's an appropriate way to honor the host culture.

* typically called a "Hawaiian protocol" to avoid exactly this kind of court case, but still.
Posted by Cawti on May 5, 2014 at 11:40 AM · Report this
venomlash 32
@29: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." (Matthew 6:5)
So, how would you interpret that OTHER than as a proscription of praying in public before an audience?
Posted by venomlash on May 5, 2014 at 11:48 AM · Report this
Ophian 33
@30, @32, +1.
Posted by Ophian on May 5, 2014 at 12:00 PM · Report this
“Let us sing praise to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for He is a loving God. Of His might and dominion, there is no compare; of His mercy and deliciousness, there is no equal. No other god can challenge Him; in the taste test, He is invincible. Through His pasta, He has blessed us with everlasting life, and holy is His Name. For He is the Flying Spaghetti Monster: the One, True, and Most High God, creator of man and midget, giver of pasta, giver of sauce, from age to holy age; not created He was, but ever He lives, through the glory of spaghetti, now and forever. R'Amen.”
Posted by gnot on May 5, 2014 at 1:01 PM · Report this

we'll excuse your heaping ignorance because you are a child.
lots and lots of people have faced religious persecution including murder in this country.

besides, when you kill your messiah you should expect to get shat upon.


it doesn't matter.
no one has to conform to your or danny's or anyone else's reading of scripture.
thats what freedom of religion means.
Posted by perhaps one day you will wise up on May 5, 2014 at 1:08 PM · Report this
@32, right. Just because I, and the Bible, think you're an asshole, it doesn't mean you're forced to believe that you yourself are an asshole.

That's the problem with you assholes, you're to stupid to understand what enormous assholes you are.
Posted by GermanSausage on May 5, 2014 at 1:23 PM · Report this
The problem is less Christian-majority places in the US today, than the hypothetical, but real, prospect of Muslim-majority places in the US of tomorrow.

The stories of the early Christians are about the terror of being an oppressed minority, and being fed to lions. The stories of the early Muslims are about the glories of mass-converting infidels at the point of a sword.

Posted by Functional Atheist on May 5, 2014 at 1:25 PM · Report this
American idiots are forever confusing christianity with majority white racial identity, and confusing majority white racial culture with right (versus wrong) and rights.

As the right-wing baby boomers waddle off this mortal coil, they are damned and determined to subject future generations to a rule of law and a collective delusion about reality that they formed in front of a propaganda-spewing TV screen in their youth. So few being students of history, they little know or care that all of history mocks and refutes the utter foolishness and futility of their vanity.

Grands/Gramps, learn this lesson before you go: a law that does not serve the people will be ignored. The power of the old over the young is fleeting at best; biology ultimately wins.

Waging war against your children is an old fool's folly.

Enjoy the law of unintended consequences and the lessons it has to impart about the foolishness of those who would attempt to exert force through law to enforce the will of the old on the young, to rule this world from beyond the grave.

History is laughing at you.
Posted by To destroy faith make it a law on May 5, 2014 at 1:26 PM · Report this
venomlash 39
@37: The Muslims were initially a persecuted minority among the pagans populating Mecca at the time, forced to flee to Medina and defend themselves against numerically-superior forces. Conversely, the Christians soon enough found themselves the state religion of the Roman Empire and quickly took to the Roman ways of pillage and conquest.

Posted by venomlash on May 5, 2014 at 2:54 PM · Report this
Fortunate 40
@37: "The problem is less Christian-majority places in the US today, than the hypothetical, but real, prospect of Muslim-majority places in the US of tomorrow."

It's really about both.

Most Muslims today are no more blood thirsty, theocracy lovers than Christians. It's just that for those who are there are parts of the world that lets Muslims get away with it and not Christians.

But I have no doubt that given the opportunity Christians would do exactly the same things Muslims do in places they can get away with imposing their religion. The Christian machinery is all set to unleash inquisitions, stonings and all the other fun, Biblical methods of imposing "morality". Even the Catholic Church maintains the office of the inquisition (although they gave it a spiffy new name) and chose the grand inquisitor as the prior Pope.

And they are far from the least sane Christian machine out there.

Sure, there are lots of nice Christians who don't want any of that, just as there are lots of nice Muslims who don't want any of that. But history and current world politics shows us that there are enough of both who, if given the chance, will jump on the opportunity to put us in thumb screws and force their religious world view on us all.The only thing keeping Christians of today from doing that is the same thing that will keep Muslims of tomorrow from doing it. Chipping away at the wall between government and religion isn't about stopping the horrors that will come down the line, but the ones that are waiting in the wings right now in our own back yards.
Posted by Fortunate on May 5, 2014 at 3:24 PM · Report this
So if I'm a Wiccan priestess and I want to pray in a town meeting in Greece, NY, where do I sign up?
Posted by blessed be on May 5, 2014 at 3:41 PM · Report this
Well Venom, it seems the anti-Semites came out a couple weeks late this year.
Posted by Hanoumatoi on May 5, 2014 at 6:08 PM · Report this

Looks like the liberal justices are the fairer ones. How odd.
Posted by Hanoumatoi on May 5, 2014 at 6:46 PM · Report this
Knat 44
We can all thank Reagan, Bush, and Bush Jr for the bang-up job of appointments. They're long gone, but the damage is still being done.
Posted by Knat on May 5, 2014 at 8:42 PM · Report this
I wish we could have a hearing including scholars, archaeologists from around the world, and scientists on why the bible is bs. Come on we all know if Jesus existed he was an illegitimate child whose mom did not want to get stoned to death. Followed by personality disorder freaks who made up a tale to control pdople.
Posted by on May 5, 2014 at 11:49 PM · Report this
I love how the line from the bible saying public prayer is hypocritical and the kook says "It doesn't matter" because it's YOUR reading of the scripture.

* sigh
Posted by aeros66 on May 7, 2014 at 7:54 AM · Report this

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