Tuesday, May 06, 2014

US Supreme Court says that prayer at town council meetings is allowed

According to Friendly Atheist, there's been a Supreme Court Disaster: In a 5-4 Ruling, Justices Approve of Christian Prayers in Greece, New York.

Apparently a majority of US Supreme Court justices think it's okay to say Christian prayers at the opening of a town council meeting. There seems to be widespread agreement among all justices that there's nothing wrong with prayers as long as the town makes an effort to be inclusive. The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He says that making the prayers "nonsectarian" would be equivalent to asking the politicians to "to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech."

He also says that as long as the town tries to accommodate all faiths there's nothing wrong with prayers, even if almost all the churches were Christian [TOWN OF GREECE, NEW YORK v. GALLOWAY ET AL.].
To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing or approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact.

Finally, the Court disagrees with the view taken by the Court of Appeals that the town of Greece contravened the Establishment Clause by inviting a predominantly Christian set of ministers to lead the prayer. The town made reasonable efforts to identify all of the congregations located within its borders and represented that it would welcome a prayer by any minister or layman who wished to give one. That nearly all of the congregations in town turned out to be Christian does not reflect an aversion or bias on the part of town leaders against minority faiths. So long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination, the Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing.
Only one of the judges put her finger on the real issue. Justice Elena Kagan said,
When a person goes to court, a polling place, or an immigration proceeding — I could go on: to a zoning agency, a parole board hearing, or the DMV — government officials do not engage in sectarian worship, nor do they ask her to do likewise. They all participate in the business of government not as Christians, Jews, Mus­lims (and more), but only as Americans — none of them different from any other for that civic purpose. Why not, then, at a town meeting?
Exactly. Why is it necessary to have prayers at town meetings? Just drop them like most cities and towns in Ontario did when our Appeals Court ruled that they violated the Charter of Rights? [see Prayer at Mississauga City Council]


  1. Even the most innocuous prayer is coercive. This is very sad.

  2. Well its a step in the right direction but this supreme court has no moral or legal credibility I say. They were all chosen based on identity and reflect identies unrepresentive of America. there are no Protestants or original creators of America.
    Immigration offices do not deal with AMERICANS whether a she or he.

    The point is that the people should be free to recognize what is important. GOD and religion.
    Its reasonable and harmless.
    As long as no favouritism takes place its okay. The founders just didn't want favouritism not prohibition of what was very important to the very Protestant peoples of New america.
    There is no reason to stop religious beliefs where the people want them in majorities.
    The country belongs to the people and not post WW11 left wing haters of Christendom as found in the american left wing.
    I'm suspicious at this ruling knowing the crowd on this court.
    Hmmmm. However more needs to be rolled back.
    Now bring down the wall of censorship against creationism Yankeedom.

    1. there are no Protestants or original creators of America.

      Thank you Robert for (unintentionally) making the best possible argument for keeping religion out of government proceedings.

    2. Well booby, it would be rather hard to have original creators of America as they have all been dead for 160 or more years.

      However, I am forced to agree with Booby as to the current makeup of the SCOTUS. As I stated before Justice Kagan was appointed, a 9 person SCOTUS consisting of 3 Jews and 6 Catholics was not a good idea in a majority Protestant country.

  3. Tornado warning over Monticello.

    Dave Bailey

  4. Mr. Byers, could you give me an example of the wall of censorship around creationism? People are free to believe and voice their opinions about creationism. But I suspect that you are talking about the fight to keep it out of the science classroom. This is not censorship. We don't teach Bhudism in the science class, or Islam, or aboriginal origin beliefs. Why should creationists be an exception?

    Creationism (Intelligent Design) is not in the science class because it cannot be studied using the scientific process. It is not falsifiable. It is not predictive. It is not testable. These are required if you are to treat it as a science. Evolution and natural selection meets all of these criteria.

    If you want to include creationism in a comparative religion class, nobody is going to object.

    1. The example is the one you made.
      Creationism is censored by act of law and unrelated to its science credibility.
      They censor it on the claim its a religious opinion.
      therefore in classes dealing with conclusions they are in effect saying creationism is wrong or truth is not the objective.
      It should be up to the people to decide and they would allow creationism, alongside evolution etc, and not the crap of the others.
      thats why democracy works better then dictatorship.
      its the law and not about science.
      anyways creationism can persuade enough people its conclusions are not inferior in methodology to evolutionism. In fact the latter has the problem.
      Freedom to enquire, contend, teach, and rebuttal and speech is the essence of a thinking person and peoples society and educational system.
      Who is afraid of creationists??

    2. Robert, since when was science democratic. Science is about increasing understanding, regardless of public opinion. At one time the popular opinion was that the sun and stars circled around the earth.

      And are you seriously trying to claim that creationism is not religiously based? That is a bigger myth than creationism itself.

  5. Town councils aside, even each televised sitting of the House of Representatives in Congress opens with a prayer delivered by a House Chaplain, an official officer of the House. I've watched a few on CSPAN, generally the chaplain beseeches the lord to grant wisdom to representatives in their decision-making, or some such solemn absurdity. Sigh.

    1. If you ever needed evidence for the lack of the power of prayer...

    2. Well, you know the way it goes: god does indeed speak to a great many members - remarkably, his desires and commandments always matches their biases and intentions.

  6. Larry, I would be interested in any distinction you might want to draw between your position on this Supreme Court decision, and what I at least believe I understand is your position about teaching religiously motivated "science," i.e. creationism, in U.S. primary and secondary school science classes: that it should be permitted.

    1. I'm not sure I see a distinction.

      City councils are not in the business of education or theology and there's no reason for them to pray.

    2. I may have been confused about your position on the teaching of creationism in US public school science classes, then. Do you think it's OK to do so? Only in conjunction with evolutionary theory so students have a chance to compare, or OK to teach creationism by itself?

    3. My position is that a great deal of what Intelligent Design Creationists propose counts as science in my book. Therefore, it cannot be excluded from science classes simply on the grounds that it isn't science.

      Furthermore, in the USA in particular the controversy about evolution is so important that ignoring it in school is dangerous. Students should be shown why creationism is bad science so that they will be more informed citizens. It's an excellent vehicle for teaching critical thinking while dealing with major misconceptions at the same time.

      It is not okay to teach creationism by itself because that's the exact opposite of the main goals of education which are critical thinking and accurate representation of the facts.