Town of Greece v Galloway: Supreme Court Upholds Legislative Prayer. Time to Act in Response!
On Monday, May 5, 2014, the United States Supreme Court issued its
opinion in an important case involving the establishment clause of the
First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, Town of Greece v Galloway. Congress
shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
What is of particular importance in this important Supreme Court opinion has not come through clearly in many media reports. Nor has it been clear in much of the commentary on the Supreme Court opinion. That is why I am weighing in on the matter.
The US Supreme Court rejected the contemporary misguided notion that has often led to the changing of the content of prayers to somehow accommodate the perceived obligation to respect the pluralistic nature of the population. The majority opinion noted that the prayers in Greece, New York, reflected the population in Greece, New York. The majority opined - The decidedly Christian nature of these prayers must not be dismissed as the relic of a time when our Nation was less pluralistic than it is today.
WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - On Monday, May 5, 2014, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in an important case involving the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, Town of Greece v Galloway.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
What is of particular importance in this important Supreme Court opinion has not come through clearly in many media reports. Nor has it been clear in much of the commentary on the Supreme Court opinion.
That is why I am weighing in on the matter.
Many media reports indicated the somehow the High Court "upheld" prayer before legislative and governmental meetings - such as prayers before Congressional sessions or town council meetings. That fact is that such prayers are a longstanding part of our history and have been upheld before.
The seminal case was the 1983 Supreme Court opinion in Marsh v Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983). In that case the US Supreme Court upheld the practice of starting legislative sessions with a prayer and opined that it has been a longstanding part of the American tradition dating back to the First Congress.
What has developed over the years since the Marsh opinion has been a mistaken notion concerning the content of such prayer and invocations. They have increasingly been made generic. This is usually because public officials, misguided lawyers, and citizens, held a mistaken idea that "the law" required such a practice. In fact, I know that many public officials are mistakenly of the opinion that only non-sectarian prayers are allowed.
That is what is important about the Greece opinion from the Supreme Court.
In the Town of Greece New York, though visitors of various religious traditions were invited to lead the opening prayer before the meetings, the content of the prayers was not scrutinized. If the people leading them were Christians, than the ending of the prayer, with the Christian practice of praying in the name of Jesus, was regularly employed.
That led to the lawsuit - which wound its way through the Court system and ended up at the United States Supreme Court. The Plaintiffs objected to the use of "In Jesus Name" and claimed that specifically Christian prayers somehow violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
The Court made clear that not only is prayer before legislative meetings constitutional, but prayer "in Jesus name" is also constitutional.
The Opinion states: "An insistence on nonsectarian or ecumenical prayer as a single, fixed standard is not consistent with the tradition of legislative prayer outlined in the Court's cases. The Court found the prayers in Marsh consistent with the First Amendment not because they espoused only a generic theism but because our history and tradition have shown that prayer in this limited context could "coexis[t] with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom."
The Court took notice that " (The) Congress that drafted the First Amendment would have been accustomed to invocations containing explicitly religious themes."
The Supreme Court rejected the contemporary misguided notion that has often led to the changing of the content of prayers to somehow accommodate the perceived obligation to respect the pluralistic nature of the population.
The majority opinion noted that the prayers in Greece, New York, reflected the population in Greece, New York. The majority opined - The decidedly Christian nature of these prayers must not be dismissed as the relic of a time when our Nation was less pluralistic than it is today.
The Court rightly rejected the idea that the content of prayers before such sessions should somehow be censored to ensure they were "non-sectarian". In fact, the Court noted that such a mistaken approach would compel courts "to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech" and "involve the government in religious matters to a far greater degree" than the Constitution ever intended.
Sadly, that is precisely what poor establishment clause jurisprudence has brought about over the last few decades. In 1992 following the incomprehensible Supreme Court opinion in Lee v Weisman, while still serving as the Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice, a public interest law firm, 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, after tracing 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.
We have experienced a judicial ping pong game of incomprehensible opinions requiring a showing that religious symbols have a secular purpose - as though religion and the common good are mutually exclusive! A part of this mistaken notion that secular purpose means secularism has been to eviscerate ceremonial prayer of its true religious identity.
The effort to scrub the public square of religious expression and symbols is a threat to religious freedom, runs contrary to our founding documents, and is unfaithful to our history as a free people. It also represents an incorrect application of the Establishment Clause, found in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of 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 not anti-religious.
They were MOST assuredly NOT against religious symbols or religious expression, including prayer before legislative sessions. Our history is filled with them. Or, more accurately, it once was. Religious symbols are no longer seen as a wonderful sign of the history of the West and the American founding by some. Rather they are seen as a threat to the increasingly hostile secularist order. When they are allowed they must be demonstrated to have been eviscerated of any religious meaning and somehow thereby rendered "secular" and acceptable.
That is why the impact of this opinion has yet be written in our history. We must act courageously and creatively in response. Among the most creative responses I have seen recommended since the decision was handed down was the encouragement contained in this press release from my friend, E.W. Jackson of Virginia.
E.W. Jackson is a Marine Corps Veteran and graduate of Harvard Law school. He was the Republican nominee for Lt. Governor of Virginia in 2013 and currently serves as President of STAND and Bishop of Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, VA.His dedication to life, family and religious freedom have been inspiring. Readers of Catholic Online are familiar with his recent run for Lieutenant Governor of my home State of Virginia through my writing.
E.W. JACKSON CALLS ON CITIES AND COUNTIES TO LIFT RESTRICTIONS ON PRAYER, INCLUDING PRAYER IN THE NAME OF JESUS
For Immediate Release
May 6, 2014
Contact: Daniel Bradshaw
Norfolk, VA - E.W. Jackson, 2013 Republican Nominee for Lt. Governor of Virginia, is urging cities and counties in Virginia and around the country, to lift restrictions on prayer before public meetings. This week's Supreme Court Decision in the case of Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway held that prayer before Council meetings and other public bodies is Constitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote:
"From the earliest days of the Nation...invocations have been addressed to assemblies...Even those who disagree as to religious doctrine may find common ground in the desire to show respect for the divine in all aspects of their lives and being...The prayers delivered in the town of Greece do not fall outside the tradition this Court has recognized. A number of the prayers did invoke the name of Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit, but they also invoked universal themes,...by...calling for a "spirit of cooperation" among town leaders...That nearly all of the congregations in town turned out to be Christian does not reflect...bias on the part of town... [T]he Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing."
According to Jackson, this decision strikes a major blow for religious liberty. "Pastors have been told not to pray in the name of Jesus, and sometimes prayer has been outlawed altogether before public meetings for fear that someone will be offended. The Court has now confirmed what we already know. Prayer is part of the long tradition of our country , and Christians should be allowed to express themselves authentically, which includes praying in the name of Jesus."
Jackson, also a Bishop and Pastor, is encouraging ministers to reject requests by public officials not to pray in the name of Jesus. "For a government official to require this of a minister," says the Bishop, "is not only morally offensive, but the Supreme Court has declared that it is also unconstitutional."
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