Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Keith A. Fournier

5/22/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When prayer is engaged in at the beginning of legislative sessions will we soon have to submit it to obtain the approval of the State censors in black robes?

The case out of New York presents an opportunity for the US Supreme Court to bring needed clarity to Establishment Clause jurisprudence. I hope they do so. We have witnessed a growing governmental hostility toward religious faith and expression in the public square. It does not serve the common good, runs contrary to our founding documents, and is unfaithful to our history as a free people. It is an improper application of the Establishment Clause, found in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. It is a form of religious censorship which threatens our first freedom.

US Supreme Court

US Supreme Court

Highlights

By Keith A. Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

5/22/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, Religious Freedom, public prayer, legislative prayer, ceremonial prayer,


WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - In the wake of the news that the IRS asked Pro-Life applicants for recognition of tax exemption under Section 501 about the actual content of their prayers comes news that another branch of the government has decided to examine the content of prayer.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari (Review) in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, et al. (docket 12-696) on Monday, May 20, 2013. Here is the official question as presented on the actual the docket of the Supreme Court. It summarizes the case and controversy.

*****
In Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), this Court upheld the practice of starting legislative sessions with an invocation, based on an "unambiguous and unbroken history" of legislative prayer dating back to the First Congress. (Id. At 792.) The prayers in Marsh were offered for sixteen years by the same paid Presbyterian minister and frequently contained explicitly Christian themes. (See id. at 785, 793 n.14.)

Nonetheless, this Court held that such prayers are "simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country," and constitutional unless the selection of prayer-givers "stem[s] from an impermissible motive" or "the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief."( Id. at 792, 793, 794-95.) The Court declined to apply the test from Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971).

In this case, the court of appeals held that the Town of Greece violated the Establishment Clause by allowing volunteer private citizens to open town board meetings with a prayer. Though the Town had never regulated the content of the prayers, had permitted any citizen from any religious tradition to volunteer to be a prayer-giver, and did not discriminate in selecting prayer-givers, the court struck down the Town's prayer practice, applying an "endorsement" test derived from Lemon. See App. 17a. The question presented is:

Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that a legislative prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause notwithstanding the absence of discrimination in the selection of prayer-givers or forbidden exploitation of the prayer opportunity.

*****
Greece is a city in upper State New York which is home to about 100,000 residents. Like many cities, my own included, public legislative sessions begin with a prayer. Local clergy or lay leaders are regularly invited. As a member of the Clergy for 17 years, I have led such prayers on several occasions, locally and at the State level.  It is a wonderful practice and rooted in the history of the American experiment.

Two residents in Greece, New York,Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, did not like prayer before legislative session. So, they literally made a federal case out of the practice. They sued, claiming the practice was unconstitutional. One of them, Susan Galloway, is the named plaintiff. Her name will be memorialized in the decision of the Court. 

They claimed that the prayer somehow constituted an establishment of the Christian religion. That claim was accepted by the Second Circuit Court - even though the facts clearly indicated that the prayers were offered by numerous representatives of various religious communities.

The Second Circuit took it upon themselves to decide that "a legislative prayer practice that, however well-intentioned, conveys to a reasonable objective observer under the totality of the circumstances an official affiliation with a particular religion, violates the clear command of the [First Amendment's] Establishment Clause."

Their law suit ended up going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held the practice to be unconstitutional. The courageous City leaders sought this review. The two complaining parties fought the review because they were happy with the Second Circuit opinion.

This dispute, since it has been chosen for review by the US Supreme Court, now has the makings of becoming a major Establishment Clause case. The last time the High Court addressed prayer at the beginning of legislative sessions was in 1983 in a case entitled Marsh v. Chambers, out of Nebraska.

In that opinion the Court upheld the practice of having a State Chaplain begin legislative sessions with a prayer as a matter of a tradition dating back to the American founding. It did not use the so called "Lemon Test", which it formulated in 1971. Thus, it did not consider the content of the prayer.

Since then, the High Court has considered prayer at graduation and at football games. In those cases it did analyze the content of the prayer. It also considered whether the party offering it was somehow a state actor thereby triggering this indecipherable application of the establishment clause.

The notion is that such a connection somehow constitutes a government endorsement of religion. Discerning the rationale used by the Supreme Court opinions in this vital area of constitutional law is futile, because there is none.

All who are concerned about religious freedom in the United States should watch this new case with great concern.  As a constitutional lawyer I have long questioned the current establishment clause law in our Nation. It is clearly an invention of a judicial branch increasingly hostile to religious faith and expression. 

In 1992, when I served as the Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) I wrote a law review article entitled "In the Wake of Weisman: The Lemon Test is Still a Lemon but the Psycho-coercion Test is more Bitter Still". In that article, I trace the history of the interpretation of the Establishment clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution and the developments of the last few decades.

I predicted the insanity that would follow from the efforts of the Supreme Court to apply the so called "Lemon Rule" (named after the Courts 1971 opinion in Lemon v Kurtzman) and it's ever expanding "interpretations" and permutations.

Insanity is precisely what has occurred.

We are experiencing a judicial ping pong game in the decisions coming out of the Supreme Court concerning the Establishment Clause.

As it relates to religious displays in the public square, there are incomprehensible opinions requiring a showing that religious symbols have a secular purpose - as though religion and the common good are mutually exclusive.

Federal Judges now make up their own rules and preferences by which they decide whether a religious symbol will be allowed to stand on public land or in a public building. There is not even a pretense that the actual words of the Establishment Clause have any effect.

As it relates to the longstanding practice of acknowledging God at the beginning of deliberations of government, the intolerant secularists are urging the Courts to become religious censors. The decision of the Second Circuit in the case the US Supreme Court accepted on Monday is an example of how bad it has gotten.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights is best understood as an anti-establishment clause. It was intended to prohibit the establishment of one particular religion - in the sense of a Federal or State sponsored Church which mandated adherence from unwilling citizens.

The American founders fled coercive approaches to religion which compelled adherence to a particular sect. Yet, they were also not anti-religious. They were assuredly not against religious symbols or religious expression. Our history is filled with them. Or, more accurately, it once was.

Religious symbols and legislative prayers are no longer seen as part of the history of the West and the American founding. Rather, they are perceived as a threat to the secularist order. When symbols are allowed they are eviscerated of any real religious meaning. They become secular and acceptable.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two opinions in Ten Commandment cases on June 27, 2005 which added to the confusion. The Justices (at least five of them) upheld a display of the Ten Commandments on public land in Texas if the display is placed within the context of other displays that speak to the history of the Nation.

However, the Court also held that some displays of those same commandments, with the very same content, cannot adorn the walls of a courthouse, at least if they look like ones which hung in Kentucky. It appears that if the Ten Commandments are placed within the context of other codes governing human behavior, such as they are in the display hung right in the U.S. Supreme Court, they might be permissible.

When prayer is engaged in at the beginning of legislative sessions will we soon have to submit it to obtain the approval of the State censors in black robes?

The case out of New York presents an opportunity for the US Supreme Court to bring needed clarity to Establishment Clause jurisprudence. I hope they do so. We have witnessed a growing governmental hostility toward religious faith and expression in the public square. It does not serve the common good.

The effort runs contrary to our founding documents, and is unfaithful to our history as a free people. It is an improper application of the Establishment Clause, found in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. It is a form of religious censorship which threatens our first freedom.

Federal Judges make up their own rules by which they decide whether a religious symbol will be allowed to stand on public land or in a public building. They decide on their own what prayers are acceptable and which are not. There is no longer even a pretense that the actual words of the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause and the free Speech Clause have any objective meaning or effect.

Religious faith and expression - and the values informed by faith - serve and promote the common good. Religious freedom is a fundamental and basic human right which must be secured and protected by law in truly free Nations. Rightly understood and applied, religious freedom means a freedom for religious expression; not a removal of such expression from public places or a censoring of prayer from legislative sessions.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for November 2014
Lonely people:
That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.
Mentors of seminarians and religious: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.



Comments


More U.S.

Obama declares all out war on Republicans over immigration reform Watch

Image of President Obama is expected to give a speech on November 20, outlining his plans to execute immigration reform via executive action.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Even after warnings from sitting and incoming House and Senate Republicans that unilateral action on immigration reform from President Barack Obama would not be tolerated, the president has gone ahead and outlined a plan to relax the rules and regulations of U.S. ... continue reading


The Marriage Meme of Francis: What Did the Pope Just Say about Marriage and Family? Watch

Image of Pope Francis presiding at a marriage Liturgy at St Peters.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Pope Francis embraces the unchangeable truth about marriage as solely between one man and one woman, intended for life, open to life and formative of family as the sole Meme - using the word properly.  That is why you will not read much about the crystal ... continue reading


Another black eye for Democrats: Obamacare architect makes off with $6 million in taxpayer money Watch

Image of New videos released in November show that the architect behind the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, holds nothing but contempt for the American people.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The architect of the fiasco that has been the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Jonathan Gruber, was paid about $6 million in taxpayer money between 2009 and 2014. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - This is about 24 times what an average, full-time American worker would ... continue reading


See the list of MOST FREE countries in the world, the results will surprise you! Watch

Image of Land of the Free no more, Americans report a significant decline in personal freedom under the Obama administration.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

America is supposed to be the land of the free, so Americans themselves might be surprised to see that the United States actually ranks fairly low on the index of personal freedom when compared to other nations. Instead of occupying the number 1 spot, the USA has ... continue reading


America's foremost monster and madman Charles Manson intends to wed 26-year-old girl Watch

Image of A rare, recent prison photo of Charles Manson without his beard. The swastika on his forehead remains.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

His name alone strikes a chord even today, years after his murderous activities with his "family." Charles Manson's name is synonymous with madness and mayhem. The 80-year-old murderer now intends to marry a 26-year-old girl with a freshly obtained marriage ... continue reading


LOCKED AND LOADED - National Guard called to Ferguson as Missouri governor reacts to broadening crisis Watch

Image of The grand jury has been meeting for about three months to consider evidence on the shooting of 18-year-old Brown by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

National Guard called to Ferguson as Missouri governor reacts to broadening crisisPolice will reportedly 'maintain peace and protect those exercising their right to free speech'Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)A state of emergency has been declared in the state of ... continue reading


What does this say about America? New study finds that child homelessness epidemic has reached a historic high Watch

Image of A new study has shown that 2.5 million children in the U.S. were homeless in 2013.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

After a surge in recent years, a record number of children in the United States are homeless, and could be as high as one out of every 30, a recent report has revealed. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The report, titled "America's Youngest Outcasts," was ... continue reading


Why is Obama allowing foreign-designated terrorist groups to operate within the United States? Watch

Image of Protesters burn an American flag. The nation has many enemies, both within and without.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Two "moderate," mainstream Islamic groups in the United States feel as though they've been tarred and feathered with the same brush. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which describes itself as "America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy ... continue reading


President Obama honors second man to die of Ebola in U.S. Watch

Image of Martin Salia, a Sierra Leone born surgeon is the second man to die of Ebola in the United States. Salia received a

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Another doctor has died from Ebola, marking the second person to die of the disease in the United States. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Martin Salia, a Sierra Leone native whose family lived in Maryland, was flown to Nebraska Medical Center where he was placed in ... continue reading


Coming to the USA! Pope Francis announces 2015 trip to Philadelphia Watch

Image of Pope Francis will visit the U.S. in 2015, where he will the fourth sitting Pontiff to visit America.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will be making his first trip to the United States in September of 2015. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Pope is going to visit Philadelphia for the World Meeting of the Families, a Catholic public event which ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Revelation 5:1-10
1 I saw that in the right hand of the One sitting on ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 149:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 9
1 Alleluia! Sing a new song to Yahweh: his praise in ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:41-44
41 In reply Jesus said, 'Faithless and perverse ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 20th, 2014 Image

St. Edmund Rich
November 20: Archbishop of Canterbury England, who battled for discipline and ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter