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Since the Supreme Court Upheld Legislative Prayer, Is the Separation of Church and State Over?

Since the Supreme Court Upheld Legislative Prayer, Is the Separation of Church and State Over?

Stories about the push to end any sort of barrier between the government and religion have been peppering the press recently, but now the situation has just become even more dire. In a split 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision, the highest judicial body has stated that public, governmental support of Judeo-Christian prayer is just fine, setting a precedent that could have serious repercussions on future cases.

The ruling comes from Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case debating whether a prayer before each legislative session constitutes a violation of the Establishment Clause, which says that the government cannot promote a given religion. The case was brought about when two residents of a town in Greece, New York, challenged the local city government who not only opened each session with a distinctly and specifically Christian prayer, but pressured those in attendance to pray as well. “The two women contended that the prayers in Greece were unconstitutional because they pressured those in attendance to participate,” reports USA Today. ”They noted that unlike federal and state government sessions, town board meetings are frequented by residents who must appear for everything from business permits to zoning changes.”

The conservative wing of the Supreme Court — aided by Justice Anthony Kennedy — voted in favor of keeping public prayer in place, saying that even though the prayers supported one specific religious view and those who attended were forced to listen and encouraged to join in, not allowing prayer would be a violation of freedom of speech. In other words, if the government is inviting prayer, it can’t prohibit it later on just because everyone is praying the same way with the same religious viewpoint. The liberal side of the court said it was little more than public coercion of those who didn’t have the same views. “No one can fairly read the prayers from Greece’s town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian – constantly and exclusively so,” said Justice Elena Kagan in her dissent. “The prayers betray no understanding that the American community is today, as it long has been, a rich mosaic of religious faiths.”

Sadly, it’s not surprising that the religious members of the Court have used their own personal beliefs to justify their ruling in favor of the city of Greece. After all, one member even actively debates that Satan is a real person and engaged in daily battles on this earth. Also not surprising is how delighted religious right advocacy organizations are by the decision, which they view as the first step to returning the country from the grips of impending atheism.

“Religious freedom is one of our most cherished freedoms and today’s Supreme Court decision lifts up the best in our country,” said Concerned Women for America’s Penny Nance. ”For years we have seen a push to establish atheism as the official religion of our land, when nothing of the sort is required by the First Amendment. Those who object to these practices do not seek to exercise their religious liberty; they merely feel hostile towards other people’s religious practices and seek to silence them. They seek to silence those with whom they disagree.”

“This is a sound decision that recognizes the significance of our nation’s heritage and tradition,” agreed ACLJ’s Jay Sekulow.

Less happy about the ruling was American’s United for the Separation of Church and State. But the group, were the ones to litigate the case, were able to see some positive aspects in the ruling as well, such as the fact that Kennedy’s majority report did say that prayer that denigrated other religions or sought to convert people would not be viewed as so innocuous. “So, the high court is not willing to say what constitutes a ‘non-sectarian’ prayer – but it is willing to at least entertain the idea that offensive and derogatory prayers can be a problem?” notes AU’s blog. ”I suspect we haven’t seen the last of this issue.”

What this ruling has shown us, for certain, is how a court body rules when several members are not only religious, but see no issues with using their religious beliefs to support their rulings, rather than depend explicitly on the constitution as they are supposed to be doing. Currently six of the nine justices are Catholic and of those all but one voted in the majority (Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, did not). As I have written before, it doesn’t take many steps to move to a theocracy using elections, the legislative system and the courts, and, by looking at this ruling, it’s clear that we may already be on the verge.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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205 comments

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5:10PM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

Our Constitution was written for religious freedoms. It should remain. But it doesn't say which religion so we should still have choice.

11:59AM PDT on May 27, 2014

What this seems to be saying that it is ok to force A religion on anyone and everyone. The government was started on a "separation of church and state". Now they are promoting church in government - the last place it belongs. What is worse? It won't stop there.

Lisa Z. The rights of prayer were never "taken away" to begin with. You have always been able to pray when and where your little heart desired. What this does is force everyone else to listen to it; no matter what their religion or beliefs.

This does open up the debates again of the possibility of prayer in schools. That was hotly debated; now open for review by the religious courts - not unbiased courts.

1:13PM PDT on May 13, 2014

Lisa Z
“Im very happy the Supreme Court upheld our freedom to pray & have our 1st Amendment not taken away! Thank u Supreme Court! :)”

no one is stopping you from praying, what you're celebrating is now being able to force the rest of us to listen to your rantings. The 1st Amendment is for all, not 'just' fundies. Do you feel the same for those of Islamic faith, would you sit quietly whilst they pray before each legislative session came to order? after all, they too are protected by The 1st Amendment. let us not forget holy rollers, and the ones who worship and handle snakes etc.

Dan B
“It appears that we have vastly different meaning of what it means to have a theocratic form of government.”

obviously.

2:01AM PDT on May 13, 2014

ty

2:27PM PDT on May 12, 2014

@Maureen asks: How does that exempt this practice from being the imposition of theocracy?


Because a christian, who doesn't care about anyone else's rights, says its okay, it's a little thing, you shouldn't be bothered by it. And this is said while pretending that christians don't already have way too much, influence on our society.


You want to pray? Pray in silence, pray at home, pray at church.

Besides, prayer is unnecessary and science has concluded so far that it doesn't make a difference.

Further, it is easily proven as unnecessary.

Action: Pray for something.
Ask: Is that something in your god’s divine plan?
If the answer is yes. Guess what? Prayer is redundant.
If the answer is no, Guess what? Prayer is futile.
Conclusion: Prayer serves no purpose.

12:20PM PDT on May 12, 2014

Lisa Z, Americans have, at least since the founding of the republic, always had the right to pray; the Supreme Court decision has nothing to do with that. It has to do with, contrary to the First Amendment, allowing a town council to force specific religious viewpoints down people's throats. Would you still be so delighted if the prayers were Wiccan, praising the Great Goddess?

12:15PM PDT on May 12, 2014

No, Dan B, the case does not involve "The federal government . . .telling you or me what to believe or not to believe," it's the town council who is doing so. How does that exempt this practice from being the imposition of theocracy?

12:11PM PDT on May 12, 2014

I saw in another article about this ruling that the town claims that they welcome opening prayers from any "chaplain" (of course, they decide who can be a "chaplain") & that it is merely chance that most (all?) of their chaplains are Christians. Perhaps one way to test that is for a Wiccan to apply to be a "chaplain." If they accept her, the town council & residents would discover the beauties of the Goddess & her consort; if not, she could sue.

11:50AM PDT on May 12, 2014

Some of you people have a truly uneducated and bizarre understanding about what freedom of speech means……..it always makes me chuckle.

10:31AM PDT on May 12, 2014

Really, the government sanctioning prayer and beginning each town meeting with religious activity, including prayer and proselyzation is NOT a theocracy?

The prayer serves no government purpose, the result of the prayer is to promote religion, and it excessively entagles the state with religion. By the way, that is the three-pronged test of Lemon v. Kurtzman the standard that the U.S. Supreme Court has ALWAYS used in these cases and this case FAILS ALL THREE!

Of course the conservative wing of the Supreme Court did not use the Lemon test, because the wanted to sanction prayer.

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