Greece v Galloway: well that’s annoying!

subtle coercive pressuresYou can tell I’ve been busy because I failed to notice this last month:

Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing, serves that legitimate function. If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court. — Greece v Galloway

Basically the Supremes were given the chance to say that sectarian prayer (“we acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross”), or even prayer in general (“blah blah blah God blah blah”), is out of place in government contexts since some of the salient citizens could obviously feel excluded; and they did something close to the opposite, on the amusing and infuriating assumption that this stuff “unites” us in our “common effort”.

There is good coverage of this on Friendly Atheist and very good analysis on ScotusBlog.

Justice Kagan gets it just right in this bit of dissent:

Contrary to the majority’s apparent view, such sectarian prayers are not “part of our expressive idiom” or “part of our heritage and tradition,” assuming the word “our” refers to all Americans.

but also disappointingly does exactly the same thing herself in writing

None of this means that Greece’s town hall must be religion- or prayer-free. “[W]e are a religious people,” Marsh observed.

Not assuming that the word “we” refers to all Americans, eh, Justice Kagan? Hem hem!

The conservative Justices are saying, as conservative Justices tend to, “people like us have no problem with this, and people who aren’t like us don’t really matter much.”

And that’s always bad.

But it’s sad that, as ScotusBlog notes, even the dissenters seem to assume that government prayer is just fine, and the only thing that might make anyone feel unacceptably excluded is if it’s the wrong kind of prayer.

Phht.

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2 Comments to “Greece v Galloway: well that’s annoying!”

  1. I always find this kind of litigation difficult. I generally could care less if there is an opening prayer. I’m not religious, but I’m not unmindful of those that are. Not permitting prayer is intolerant too. The justices seem to me to express a balance. There are no perfect balances, but their “If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion” provides a pretty good guide to finding such a balance. I agree, however, that “and to unite lawmakers in their common effort” provides no additional useful information and might itself be found offensive. They might have done better to encourage uplifting poetry. I can think of quite a few Frost and Whitman offerings that would be more uplifting (and uniting) than most of the prayers I’ve heard.

  2. Not allowing prayer (during government functions) is intolerant how? Is not allowing yelling intolerant of those who like to yell? Is not allowing threats of eternal damnation intolerant of those who think those threats are important? All those things are just inappropriate, as imo is prayer.

    This isn’t about tolerance, really; it’s about equal treatment. We are both relatively privileged, and probably unlikely to be disadvantaged before the government. But think of some nonChristian in a town with only Christian churches, where every official function starts with the invocation of Jesus, as this decision allows. Is it rational for that person to feel that all is okay, and that they need not worry about being treated differently? Or for that matter an atheist, reading even Kagan saying in effect “you aren’t one of us”. That not how I want my country to be.

Hm?

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