Supreme Court wrestles with how ‘religious’ prayer should be at public meetings

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Demonstrators hold signs reading "Keep your theocracy off my democracy" in front of the Supreme Court on Nov. 6, 2013 during oral arguments of Greece v. Galloway. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

Demonstrators hold signs reading "Keep your theocracy off my democracy" in front of the Supreme Court on Nov. 6, 2013 during oral arguments of Greece v. Galloway. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

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WASHINGTON (RNS) "Give me an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists,” Justice Samuel Alito asked the lawyer representing two women who did not like Christian prayers at town meetings. “Hindus. Give me an example of a prayer. Wiccans, Baha'i.”

  • LiberTardis

    My bet is that they will refuse to rule like they did for gay marriage.
    but that aside…prayer is a barbarically strange concept why the hell is this fight even happening? It is 2013 for Pete’s sake. Do people even still go to church?

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  • Larry

    The DOMA case was specifically brought before the court to avoid the larger issues. It was limited in scope by its plaintiffs in order to assure a more favorable outcome.

    You are right. SCOTUS as of late is notoriously gunshy about Establishment Clause cases and usually finds a technical reason to dismiss them so they don’t have to make a ruling on the subject.

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  • No need for all this wrestling. The purpose of the original writers was perfectly clear and perfectly explained in their other writings. The FEDERAL government is not supposed to do ANYTHING about religion. If a state or city wants to have an Established Anglican Church, fine. If a state or city wants to have an Established Wiccan Coven, fine. If a state or city wants to have total freedom, fine. The FEDERAL government simply skips the whole question. That’s all.

    The Supremes should always tell the lower-level federal courts to butt out.

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  • Duane Lamers

    Polistra, it is safe to say that what liberals really want is the complete abolition of the First Amendment. It does not comport with their notion of the all-powerful secular state. It may also be true that the liberals on SCOTUS, Kennedy included, don’t want to push their luck on this matter for fear of stirring up a major crisis within the country, one that just might result in the liberals’ losing more than just a short-lived victory of a bad decision at the bench.

    Poke the people often enough in the wrong spot–well, that’s what revolutions are made of, including revolutions at the ballot boxes. We’ve not had a real voters’ revolution in quite some time, and it may be that we’ll get one as a result of the mess Washington has given us these days because of its willful participation in what really is unconstitutional behavior.

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  • Larry

    That has to be one of the most plug ignorant arguments made on the subject!

    It is a perfect reason why “Founder Intent” is such an intellectually dishonest phony basis for argument.

    You seemed to forget of a little incident from 1861-65 which forever changed how the Federal government views states rights.

    We have a little something called the 14th Amendment. Equal protection under the law. Meaning all of the states must follow the guidelines of the Bill of Rights and the Federal government is the final arbiter of civil liberties issues.

  • Duane Lamers

    Larry, I don’t know about you, but I’ve read quite a bit of the Federalist Papers and other letters, notes, etc. written contemporaneously by these same early fathers of the country.
    The nature of the dispute is not about the federal government insuring that the Constituion is observed in all the states, it is about judicial interpretation of that same Constitution. Nobody is arguing about the issue of slavery, at least not once the Constitution was amended to outlaw it, at which point it is the President’s duty to enforce it.

    The Founders knew full well that the issue of slavery could prevent the establishment of a United States, which is why they wrote what they wrote. They also knew that, sooner or later, the slavery issue would have to be addressed. If you read the Federalist, you’ll be aprised of this.

    Perhaps you have a different take on the NATURE of the actual dispute that has the country polarized. If so, I’d like to learn of it.

  • Duane Lamers

    Indeed, Larry. What liberals want to do is abolish religion from the public square, and they dislike the “free exercise” phrase
    I’ll also add: Establishment of religion” is a phrase relating to the abstract concept of religion in general. It is not possible to “establish religion”; it is only possible to establish a specific religion. The Founders did not want a “Church of America” that would in any way mimic the Church of England or any of the other established state religions found in Europe.
    SCOTUS is gunshy because it is a divided court, and the liberals on that court know full well that their own understanding of the establishment clause cannot be justified by the words of the Document nor by the context in which they were written.
    Did you know that even in Jefferson’s time church services were conducted in the Capitol and in other federal buildings? There was no uproar about this because everyone knew that the government itself did not have a hand in any of it other than providing the space for worship services.
    Care to explain how this might constitute an “establishment” of religion? Should federal buildings be used today for such purposes? There’s no reason for it, not with plenty of other places available.

  • Larry

    So what you are saying is that you do not like religious freedom unless it gives you the right to excuse any action under the banner of “God’s will”. Religious prayer at government meetings by government officials is not free exercise. Its pure endorsement of religion by government.

    Attacking the Establishment Clause and elevating Free Exercise tells me that you do not respect any religious belief but your own and you have no problem giving such beliefs the power of law.

    Your attempt to weaselword the Establishment Clause to the point of irrelevance is hardly an honest or new point people make when they are making theocratic brownie points. Government establishes religion when it shows favoritism to one faith in a public fashion. You would like Christians to be considered above all others by government, but that is now what the 1st Amendment calls for.

    The Founders were deeply skeptical of religious trappings in government settings because such things are always a precursor to the sectarian discrimination which was so common in Europe. The discrimination many came to America to avoid.

    Secularism in government has its roots in Christianity. With Anabaptist sects setting up the colonies of PA and RI as sanctuary from religious persecution (which was rampant in the other colonies). They actively kept religion out of government in order to protect the welfare of all faiths. [The concept of Separation of Church and State predates our Constitution by over a century]

    “Did you know …?
    Did you know you are quoting David Barton’s oft-repeated misrepresentations and fictions rather than making a factually supported argument? Jefferson had little respect for public displays of piety in general and was skeptical of Christian dogma. Theocrats have made lying about history into a big business and ingratiated themselves among ignorant and lazy conservatives.

    Try reading about Roger Williams and William Penn. The people whose works are most responsible for the formation of our 1st Amendment religious freedom.

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  • Terry

    If any municipality chooses to open public meetings with a prayer the person offering the prayer should be chosen from the various faith communities represented in the town or municipality; though this may not be appreciated by the Christian majority, a little humility may be just what is needed in this instance.

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