Separation of Church and State isn’t Really That Important, Supreme Court Decides

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Town of Greece v Galloway. The case involved two residents of Greece in upstate New York near Rochester. Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens complained that local council meetings always opened with a chaplain doing a prayer, a practice that began in 1999. The prayers were always a Christian oriented invocation.

Galloway and Stephens, described as Jewish and atheist, sued after their complaints were all but ignored, with the council having only four meetings out of twelve with invocations of different faiths. They argued that the city council was endorsing a particular faith, a violation of the First Amendment. A trial court ruled in favor of the town, saying it did not intentionally exclude non-Christians and that the prayers were not presented in order to proselytize or promote a particular religion. An appeals court disagreed, saying the repeated use of only Christian prayers was tantamount to the town endorsing Christianity.

On Monday, the Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s decision.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “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.”  This prohibits the government from establishing an official religion, as well as favoring one religion over another, or forcing religion on the non-religious.

The majority in the 5-4 decision focused on the difference between “coercion” and “endorsement.”  In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the invitation to ministers was an acknowledgment of the” central place that religion and religious institutions hold in the lives of those present.” They also pointed out that opening legislative sessions with prayer had a long standing tradition in American politics, so much so that even the Obama Administration submitted a brief in support of the Town of Greece. The issue with this case, however, was whether the particular focus on a specific religious doctrine violated the Constitutional rights of the non-religious, especially since these meetings were open to the public.

The SCOTUS ruled it does not.

In stark contrast with previous SCOTUS rulings, the majority ruled that the content of the prayers could include references to a deity or deities of the faith and did not need to include references to multiple faiths. The inclusion of these references was not forcing anyone to follow a particular faith, they ruled. Furthermore, if people were offended by the references, they had the option to ignore or walk out. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” Justice Kennedy wrote.

In other words, non-Christians weren’t being forced to join a religion.

The dissenting minority, made up of three Jewish justices and a non-practicing Catholic, pointed out that the majority’s opinion ignored the endorsement part of the First Amendment. In the dissent, written by Justice Elena Kagan, they suggested the majority’s opinion would be different if the town of Greece had a majority Muslim or Jewish community. The ruling, they said, essentially allowed for religious favoritism and ignored the very real and subtle ways that religion encroaches on the everyday lives of citizens. Coercion doesn’t have to be an overt or direct act. It can happen in the most innocuous ways. She demonstrated this with a hypothetical.

“Let’s say that a Muslim citizen of [Greece, New York] goes before the Board to share her views on policy or request some permit. Maybe she wants the Board to put up a traffic light at a dangerous intersection; or maybe she needs a zoning variance to build an addition on her home. But just before she gets to say her piece, a minister deputized by the Town asks her to pray “in the name of God’s only son Jesus Christ.”  She must think — it is hardly paranoia, but only the truth — that Christian worship has become entwined with local governance. And now she faces a choice — to pray alongside the majority as one of that group or somehow to register her deeply felt difference. She is a strong person, but that is no easy call — especially given that the room is small and her every action (or inaction) will be noticed. She does not wish to be rude to her neighbors, nor does she wish to aggravate the Board members whom she will soon be trying to persuade. And yet she does not want to acknowledge Christ’s divinity, any more than many of her neighbors would want to deny that tenet. So assume she declines to participate with the others in the first act of the meeting — or even, as the majority proposes, that she stands up and leaves the room altogether.  At the least, she becomes a different kind of citizen, one who will not join in the religious practice that the Town Board has chosen as reflecting its own and the communi­ty’s most cherished beliefs. And she thus stands at a remove, based solely on religion, from her fellow citizens and her elected representatives.”

In response to the ruling, the town supervisor of Greece, NY said the prayer practice would continue. He reiterated Justice Kennedy’s opinion, saying that anyone who felt uncomfortable did not have to participate and could have a quiet moment of reflection. He also said that if others of different faiths wanted to lead a prayer, they were welcome to and would be accommodated – depending on the board’s schedule.

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brownabout a year ago

Lol, in Darryll G.'s demented mind everything went to hell when govenment schools began following the First Amendment and stop forcing prayers on children in violation of the separation of church and state.

He thinks that reciting some words from a bronze/iron age "magic book" keep schools safe and with out those mystical incantations schools turned into murderous hellholes and dens of inequity.

I guess according to nutjobs like him, if we just started saying "magic words" every morning (along with a generous beating for all the kids involved) we could return to the imaginary "Leave It To Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" world that of course never existed, but that these morons continuously long for, huh?

Darryll Green
Darryll Greenabout a year ago

What's happening to our beloved country?

Let's see, I think it started back in the early 1960'swhen Madeline Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body was found recently) complained she didn't want any prayer in our schools, and we said OK.

Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school... the Bible that says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said, OK.

Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spocks son committed suicide) And we said, an expert should know what he's talking about so we said... OK, we won't spank them anymore.

Then someone said teachers and principals better not discipline our children when they misbehave. And the school administrators bowed under the pressure of their school community parents and said no faculty member in this school better touch a student when they misbehave because we don't want any bad publicity, and we surely don't want to be sued. (There's a big difference between disciplining and touching, beating, smacking, humiliating, kicking, etc.) And we accepted their reasoning.

Darryll Green
Darryll Greenabout a year ago

Then someone said, let's let our daughters have abortions if they want, and they won't even have to tell their parents. And we said, that's a grand idea. Then some wise school board member said, since boys will be boys and they're going to do it anyway, let's give our sons all the condoms they want, so they can have all the fun they desire, and we won't have to tell their parents they got them at school. And we said, that's another great idea.

Then some of our top elected officials said it doesn't matter what we do in private as long as we do our jobs. And agreeing with them, we said it doesn't matter to me what anyone, including the President, does in private as long as I have a job and the economy is good.

And then someone said let's print magazines with pictures of nude women in them and call it wholesome, down-to-earth appreciation for the beauty of the female body. And we said we have no problem with that. And someone else took that appreciation a step further and published pictures of nude children and then stepped further still by making them available on the internet. And we said they're entitled to their free speech.

Darryll Green
Darryll Greenabout a year ago

June 17, 1963 in Abington Vs. Schempp the Supreme Court removed BIBLE readings from public education THE TOP PUBLIC SCHOOL PROBLEMS...


1. Talking 5. Getting out of Turn in Line
2. Chewing Gum 6. Wearing Improper Clothing
3. Making Noise 7. Not Putting Paper in

SINCE 1963

1. Rape 7. Murder 13. Alcohol Abuse
2. Robbery 8. Suicide 14. Gang Warfare
3. Assault 9. Absenteeism 15. Pregnancies
4. Burglary 10. Vandalism 16. Abortions
5. Arson 11. Extortion 17. Venereal
6. Bombings 12. Drug Abuse Disease

Dennis D.
Dennis D.about a year ago


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.
Now read this very carefully it means that the government can not interfere with how a person worships or establish an "official religion nor recognize same. As enough Supreme Court Decisions have been handed down To note that The separation of church and State is a real line that has always existed within the 1 Amendment.

That separation of the two has blurred dramatically since former President Reagan(d) invited the so called religious right into the republican party. While the federal government has not officially recognized one religion over another. Plenty of local and state governments have come real close to doing so all the same.

This Supreme Court has gotten a lot more wrong than right.. This is just another indication. That the perception the Supreme Justices, that are conservative, are allowing their own religious out looks to be justified under the Constitution.

Darryll Green
Darryll Greenabout a year ago

THERE'S no such thing as separation of church and state, quite harping on it, get over it and leave it alone, READ THE CONSTITUTION, THE GOVERNMENT CAN'T INSTITUTE A RELIGION AND THAT IS ALL IT HAS TO SAY ON THE MATTER

Original Message:

Janice left a comment on the following article:
Separation of Church and State isn't Really That Important, Supreme Court Decides
Wiser people than what we have today wrote the Constitution/Bill of Rights/etc. Repair the ruin you have done to ruin it then leave it alone.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

Wiser people than what we have today wrote the Constitution/Bill of Rights/etc. Repair the ruin you have done to ruin it then leave it alone.

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Regus S.
Regus Slantei1 years ago

Kevin B. -- Exactly.

And it is these people, who make our forefathers turn over in their graves, who are also the very ones who wear lapel flag-pins, and beat their chests about patriotism, and screech the loudest about strictly following the Constitution.

These rightwing "morans" wouldn't know the Constitution if it shat on their empty heads.


Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown1 years ago

Cletus, it is the same sort of intellectual twisting of the issue that rigth wing christians always try. "Hey, here is instance where a founding father prayed, so therefore it is A-OK to ignore the First Amendment and have state-sanctioned prayer and proselytizing as part of government.

It is the very "tyranny of the majority" that the founders wrote the Bill of Rights to insure against. It is not enough that they are completely guaranteed "free exercise of religion," no they have to have THEIR religion sanctified by the state and forced on the rest of us.

Jefferson and Madison are turning over in their graves at this nonsense.