May 5, 2014

The Supreme Court rejects the notion that "legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God."

"The law and the Court could not draw this line for each specific prayer or seek to require ministers to set aside their nuanced and deeply personal beliefs for vague and artificial ones," writes Justice Kennedy, in today's new Establishment Clause case, Town of Greece v. Galloway:
There is doubt, in any event, that consensus might be reached as to what qualifies as generic or nonsectarian. Honorifics like “Lord of Lords” or “King of Kings” might strike a Christian audience as ecumenical, yet these titles may have no place in the vocabulary of other faith tradi­tions. The difficulty, indeed the futility, of sifting sectarian from nonsectarian speech is illustrated by a letter that a lawyer for the respondents sent the town in the early stages of this litigation. The letter opined that references to “Father, God, Lord God, and the Almighty” would be acceptable in public prayer, but that references to “Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Trinity” would not. App. 21a. Perhaps the writer believed the former group­ing would be acceptable to monotheists. Yet even seem­ingly general references to God or the Father might alien­ ate nonbelievers or polytheists. McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., 545 U. S. 844, 893 (2005) (SCALIA, J., dissenting). Because it is unlikely that prayer will be inclusive beyond dispute, it would be un­ wise to adopt what respondents think is the next-best option: permitting those religious words, and only those words, that are acceptable to the majority, even if they will exclude some. Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U. S. 488, 495 (1961). The First Amendment is not a majority rule, and government may not seek to define permissible categories 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 nonsectarian.
I'll write more about this case soon. It just happened.

ADDED: Cutting and pasting from the PDF produced "alien­ ate nonbelievers." Is that a sign? Anyway, it's fixed now — my contribution to the government coverup of the alien invasion Jane Harman was talking about yesterday. Anyway, this decision is unsurprising. When the Supreme Court granted cert. a year ago, I said: "My instant impression was they granted cert. to reverse and it's obvious (based on precedent)." But I'm interested in the details of how the various Justices, especially the newer ones, staked out their positions on the Establishment Clause. 

25 comments:

David said...

"The First Amendment is not a majority rule, and government may not seek to define permissible categories 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 nonsectarian."

Can't wait to read the minority opinion.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

"Yet even seem­ingly general references to God or the Father might alien­ ate nonbelievers or polytheists. "

While references to aliens might make the Raƫlians feel more welcome.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Or should I have gone with the To Serve Humans reference?

Quaestor said...

Maybe now we can be rid of the totally useless office of Chaplain of the Senate. Maybe it's voluntary and unpaid (ah, but it's the attached prestige, that's the paycheck) but he still gets an office and a staffer or two who do get paid. And there's the heating, lighting, etc. paid for by the unwary tax victim. And we won't be subject to the grossly hypocritical display of Harry Reid calling the padre to the podium.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Since the function of the U.S. Supreme Court has become primarily super-legislative, can they open their sessions with prayer?

Quaestor said...

I find it interesting that a prayer for guidance usually leads legislators to vote strictly in their party's interest.

rhhardin said...

his or her own God or gods

There are four possibilities then.

But I question the capitalized God. It ought to be God, god, Gods or gods, for eight possibilities.

I'd claim Jesus H. Christ should be permitted, that being a name rather than an apposition.

tim maguire said...

Once it invites prayer into the public sphere

Did they not examine the question of whether government should invite prayer into the public sphere in the first place?

rhhardin said...

Derrida points out correctly that only an atheist can pray, so the question is nonsense in the first place. For a believer, it isn't a prayer but just another way of ordering pizza.

What you'd properly object to is the same thing as the pledge of allegiance offends with, namely that somebody else chooses what you have to say, even if only silently.

Say these words or go stand in the hall.

traditionalguy said...

That opinion spots the problem with post-Christian liberal church doctrine. They want a non-sectarian Christianity so as not to offend their attendees with the scriptural claims of Christ.

The village idiot over in the United Kingdom, Prince Charles, says he doesn't like that British Monarch's title since Pope Leo X awarded it to Henry the VIII: "Defender of the Faith"

The Prince of Wales says he prefers "Defender of Faith," any faith at all. So he opposes The Faith that he is supposed to be defending.

SeanJ said...

Can't wait for the first Satanic prayer!

Nichevo said...

If Charles doesn't like it, Charles doesn't have to be King.

David said...

Kagan wasn't just staking out a position. She was showing off. Or auditioning.

LarsPorsena said...

OH! No! The downward spiral into theocracy continues./sarcasm

pst314 said...

"Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen."
--Agnostic's Prayer, by Roger Zelazny

pst314 said...

"Derrida points out correctly that only an atheist can pray"

Well, Derrida was famous for spouting nonsense. But my favorite example of Derridaian obfuscation and lies was his defense of Paul de Man.

Richard Dolan said...

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but was struck by your decision to link to a site at Cornell rather than the SCOTUS site for the text of the decision. Perhaps the Cornell group offers a better service, by, e.g. sending out an email notice making it easier to track individual cases.

Ann Althouse said...

I replaced the SCOTUS link with the Cornell site as soon as I could because:

1. It's not PDF, so it's much easier to cut and paste (without introducing errors, like "alien ate nonbelievers").

2. Cites to cases are hot links.

3. I've been doing this for 10 years, so funny to see anyone ask about it now. You like the PDF for some reason or you suspect me of having some deal with Cornell?

The Godfather said...

If the Supreme Court ruled that legislative prayer is unconstitutional, there would be a tremendous outcry, a lot of it probably by Christians who haven't seen the inside of a church (except at Christmas and Easter) in a decade. Why should the Court invite such condemnation over a practice that does no discernible harm?

For myself, I prefer that public prayers in secular meetings be as generic as possible, mentioning God, but not Christ or The Prophet - but my preferences don't carry constitutional weight because I don't sit on the Supreme Court or the Editorial Board of the New York Times.

Mark said...

I can't wait for the first Islamic prayers.

n.n said...

The national charter acknowledges God and Creator. America will remain Christian in character only for so long as Christians are able to enforce it.

As for the First Amendment, it only binds Congress's ability to legislate the establishment or prohibition of religion. It does not legislate a separation of church and state. So, no official state religion, even if it is implicit, but waning, in its character.

Matt said...

This pretty much open the gates to any kind of religious prayer out there. Is that a good thing?

Steven said...

The majority opinion is that no line can be properly drawn between "sectarian" and "non-sectarian" prayer. Kagan's opinion seems to suggest one can be; she tries to distinguish Marsh v. Chambers (which she says she supports) by pointing out the Nebraska prayers were "Judeo-Christian" as opposed to "Christian", and characterizes the latter as "sectarian".

But she gives no criteria or explanation of how to evaluate a prayer to see if it crosses the line of sectarianism. Certainly, Christians and Jews think the differences between them are significant -- but then, so do Baptists and Roman Catholics, or Orthodox Jews and Reconstructionists. From an external view, they can all be lumped together as Jehovah-worship at least as fairly as the rival religions of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism (each of those having a different deity it believes is the supreme power in the universe) can be lumped together as "Hinduism".

So, given the only non-Christian place of worship in the town's limits is Buddhist, what would make a Judeo-Christian prayer like Nebraska's an acceptable standard but Christian prayer not? Kagan, despite explicitly saying that "our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian", doesn't even hint.

So, here's a practical question; how non-sectatian would a Buddhist prayer made by someone from the Buddhist temple in town have to be to be adequately non-sectarian for Kagan? Would it have to be broad enough for all Buddhists? For all dharmic religions? Or what?

Unknown said...

Two quotes that I REALLY like:

"Offence does not (however) equate to coercion,"

and

"Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define and that willing participation in civic affairs can be consistent with a brief acknowledgment of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs."

It sounds like sanity.

Elliott A said...

Since the supposition is that all religions are equal in their believer's relationship with God, I personally prefer that the prayer say a prayer in his/her own tradition. If there is really value in this prayer and the exercise is to have real meaning, the prayer should be given the best chance of being heard and acted upon in the desired manner. It is not possible to achieve that with generics. As Ghandi said, "We all pray to different faces of the same God".