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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Monday that city councils and other public boards are free to open their meetings with an explicitly Christian prayer, ruling that judges may not act as “censors of religious speech” simply because the prayers reflect the views of the dominant faith.

The 5-4 decision rejected the idea that government-sponsored prayers violate the Constitution if officials regularly invite Christian clerics to offer the prayers.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, speaking for the court, said prayers and invocations have been a routine feature of legislatures and city councils throughout American history, and he said the court was unwilling to set specific limits on those prayers.

The 1st Amendment’s ban on an “establishment of religion” does not require “that legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God,” the decision states. To enforce such a requirement would mean judges would have to review the prayers and “act as supervisors or censors of religious speech.”

“Once it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates, unfettered by what an administrator or judge considers to be non-sectarian,” Kennedy wrote in Town of Greece v. Galloway.

The ruling upholds the prayers offered regularly at town meetings in Greece, New York. Two women, one Jewish and the other atheist, had sued after attending a series of public meetings that featured a prayer to Jesus Christ.

While Kennedy’s opinion upholds these prayers, he said a city would go too far if the prayers “denigrate non-believers or religious minorities, threaten damnation or preach conversion.” This “would present a different case,” he said.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. formed the majority.

Justice Elena Kagan spoke for the four dissenters and faulted the court for “allowing the Town of Greece to turn its assemblies for citizens into a forum for Christian prayer.”

“When citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines,” Kagan concluded.

Photo: Vicki’s Pics via Flickr

  • idamag

    With what we have on the bench, our freedoms are being eroded. Suppose I believe you are supposed to pray in private? My rights are being trampled on. People, who are not Christians, freedom of religion is being eroded. Once the church takes over the government, we may have inquisitions.

  • Dominick Vila

    The separation of Church and State is one of the many casualties of political and religious radicalism in the USA. From influencing policy making to paranoia, outlandish claims, and their ability to claim victim-hood while amassing tax exempt fortunes, they are the force that drive many of our fellow citizens to the polls. Organized religious organizations are more than just big business. They are a cancer that is destroying our society, our way of life, and they are making a mockery of our Constitution and Civil Rights.

  • Douglas Johnson

    I happen to believe in what Christ said about not praying as a hypocrite standing out where everyone can see you praying. How is this not praying as a hypocrite?

    • Mark Forsyth

      An excellent question.I am acquainted with a woman who is a deacon at her church who frequently spends her Saturday evening working on a sermon that she will deliver in church on Sunday morning. Though not always,she frequently spends the other weekdays shedding light upon other people’s shortcomings .
      If I am understanding you correctly,then I would say that I too think that ones communications with the God of their understanding is a private thing and should remain so.

  • cleos_mom

    Just when I thought I couldn’t have any less respect for organized Christianity or the Christianists on the Supreme Court, they managed to top themselves.

  • Annemb

    It seems to me that the SCOTUS who voted for this conveniently forgot that our Founders forged a secular nation. “The Founders and Framers were clear. On matters of religious faith and practice they were seeking
    Freedom of, Freedom for and Freedom from Religion.” (A friend)

    “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the Common Law.” – President

    Suggested read: “A New Religious America: How a ‘Christian Country’ Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation.” (by Diana Eck, 1997)

  • Mark Forsyth

    I saved a few quotes some time ago that might bear some further contemplation and comparison to the mindset of specific Supreme Court Justices.
    “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity,the less they are mixed together.” James Madison; ” If the liberties of the American people are ever destroyed,they will fall by the hands of the clergy.” Marquis de Lafayette; ” The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bonbs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts,attitudes,or prejudices- to be found only in the minds of men. For the record,prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless,frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own for the children,and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to – – – The Twilight Zone.” Rod Serling 1960
    One who is on a contemplative,spiritual journey may reach that place where they not only realize that religion is a man made thing and upon further enlightenment begin to realize their own inherent godliness may conclude they do not require a dogma,religion,holy book,or any member of the clergy what so ever, in order to have and maintain a relationship with the God of their understanding or to be God informed.There are those people,and they are many,whose religious beliefs and practices are so intertwined with their conception of God,they will never be capable of separating the two. So many people in our country today loudly and piously proclaim their Christianity and that they are infused with ‘The Spirit”,when in fact they are no closer to Christianity,God,and Spirit than if they were in the darkest pits of hell.
    And these same ones are trying to influence our government.

  • ExRadioGuy15

    Remember that the Republicans are Fascists and one of the defining characteristics of Fascism is the intertwining of religion and government, something that’s EXPLICITLY outlawed by the First Amendment… all of that being written….
    Yesterday’s decision by the Fascist Feckless Five Con f*ckwits pales in comparison to what they might do next month, when they announce their decision on the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga cases. As we know, those cases are about companies/corporations having “religious rights” than can be used to suppress the rights of employees for violation of the “religious beliefs” of the company/corporation. The fact that those cases were even HEARD tells how close we are to a Fascist Christian Plutartheocracy.
    I’m part of something called “Fantasy SCOTUS”…it works a little like fantasy sports leagues. In this case, you can choose any or all cases argued before the Court and make your own prediction as to what decision they’ll make, all the way down to which justices will fall on which side of the decision. In the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga cases, I predicted that the usual “swing” vote, so-called “Moderate” Anthony Kennedy, will part with the rest of his Fascist Feckless Five Con f*ckwit majority and rule against Hobby Lobby and Conestoga.
    Now, I’m an Agnostic (who believe that there’s no definitive proof one way or the other about the existence of a Higher Power), but, heaven help us if Kennedy proves me wrong….

  • ps0rjl

    I can hear the Christian right now. “My religion is better than your religion.” What would you expect from a SCOTUS that has moved us back to the right and I do mean back. I wonder what would happen if doing the prayer time at the council meeting someone would suddenly start chanting out loud to the Cahuilla mud turtle or start doing a Buddhist chant? Would they be tolerant towards them or would these people be removed? God save me from the Christians.