Sunday, May 26, 2013

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Whether or Not Greece (the Western New York Town, Not the Country) May Have Christian Prayers at Town Board Meetings

Uh Oh – A Strike for Religious Freedom or A Move Towards Government Imposed Religion?

Almost all governmental bodies open their sessions with prayer.  This is acceptable, both in law and in tradition.  But it is not acceptable for the prayers to turn into religious services of one particular religion.  The town of Greece, New York, a very nice community outside of Rochester did just that, and now the case is headed for the Supreme Court.

The town board of Greece opened its sessions with Christian prayers for almost a decade.  Then one year it allowed four persons from other religions to give the prayers, and after that reverted back to the practice of allowing only Christian religious prayers.  Some citizens of the town brought action in Federal court to stop this, and the Federal court dismissed the suit.  The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that while prayers, even sectarian praying was acceptable, having only prayers that verged on services from one religion was a de facto establishment of religion that was not Constitutional.

The 2nd Circuit went to great lengths to make a narrow decision, arguing that the town simply did not have the right to allow almost total exclusivity to one religion.

What we do hold is 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 Establishment Clause.

Where the overwhelming predominance of prayers offered are associated, often in an  explicitly sectarian way, with a particular creed, and where the town takes no steps to avoid the identification, but rather conveys the impression that town officials themselves identify with the sectarian prayers and that residents in attendance are expected to participate in them, a reasonable objective observer would perceive such an affiliation.

That the Supreme Court will take this case is highly disturbing.  First of all the issue is not “ripe”, because the 2nd Circuit simply sent the case back to the lower Court for a new ruling.  And given the desire on the part of so-called conservative Justices on the Supreme Court to invalidate the Establishment clause and have sectarian religion as a part of government it may well be that they see this as a vehicle with which to enshrine a religion into government operations.

The case is yet another example of Conservatives who will not be conservative.  Those who profess a deep love of the Constitution, i.e., Conservatives should abhor a violation of the Bill of Rights.  But because this violation is something supported by Conservatives, they will only condemn the actions of a court to uphold and defend the Constitution.  They want violations when it supports their policy, in this case, government endorsement of a particular religion and of religious practices.

Justices Scalia and Thomas will see no problem with what the Town of Greece is doing.  After all if they are establishing religion, it is the religion of Justices Scalia and Thomas, and so they see no harm in imposing their religion on others.  In their minds their religion is the 'right' religion.

Very, very scary.

1 comment:

  1. The Greece case reminds me of Lee v. Weisman, a 5-4 decision from 1992 holding that the Establishment Clause prohibits "coercive" prayer in public schools, such as prayer conducted at an assembly that students are required to attend.

    Scalia dissented, of course. In his view, prayer at school events is ok because it has been going on for a long time:

    "In holding that the Establishment Clause prohibits invocations and benedictions at public school graduation ceremonies, the Court - with nary a mention that it is doing so - lays waste a tradition that is as old as public school graduation ceremonies themselves, and that is a component of an even more longstanding American tradition of nonsectarian prayer to God at public celebrations generally."

    You can bet that Scalia will write something in the Greece case about Christian prayer being an integral part of municipal government meetings since way back when.

    Kennedy will likely be the swing vote in the Greece case, just as he was in Lee.