If you groaned when the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United ruling last year, you were no doubt pained by this week’s ruling (Greece v. Galloway) allowing sectarian prayer at city council meetings. It seems there is not much left of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Perhaps some local Christians will face a bit of a comeuppance in years to come. Thanks to immigration and other factors, Christianity could become a minority religion in some towns. When that happens, look for Christian mumbo jumbo to give way to Islamic or Scientological babble. I wonder how sanctimonious Christians will like them apples? Get ready, Jesus people, to hear praise for Allah, L. Ron Hubbard or, if Wiccans gain enough local votes, for that Christian bogeyman and archfiend Satan. When that happens, schadenfreude will blossom.
“I think this is a green light to local majorities to impose their religious practices,” said University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, lawyer for the plaintiffs who challenged the Town of Greece’s official prayers. That is exactly what the decision amounts to. The Right Wing majority has again acted to undermine the nation’s once solid progressive values. It has marginalized secular and other non-Christians. Everyone is and always has been free to pray till the cows come home, but some Christians insist on doing so in public, much like an exhibitionist who feels compelled to display himself.
Public piety via ritual prayer at government meetings is coercive, rude and divisive. As dissenting Justice Kagan observed, “When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines.”
Contrary to the assertions of Justice Kennedy, prayer does not “solemnize,” add “gravity” or strike everyone as “ceremonial.” It strikes some as just weird – as begging for favors from a deity who probably does not exist and who, if he/she or it did exist, would be infamous for ignoring prayer requests by the hundreds of billions – annually if not daily. (Prayer records are not available.)
Justice Kennedy also wrote that political prayer at town halls invokes “values long part of the nation’s heritage.” Hmmm – that in itself is nothing to brag about: included in values invoked in our heritage are many ugly norms and traditions, such as racial discrimination, the subjugation of women, medical experiments on the mentally ill and, still today, support for capital punishment. There are countless values not seen as admirable many of us do not wish to uphold – and talking out loud to a pretend sky god is certainly one of them. This is certainly true for nearly a quarter of the population who never perform such a demeaning ritual.
In time, I believe a wiser Supreme Court will support the Constitution’s separation clause, not just on this particular narrow public prayer “blessing” for yahoo town council sessions but by taking the god talk out of the Pledge of Allegiance, off the currency and out of public life entirely. Then we will have the secular nation that John F. Kennedy envisioned:
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute … where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace…(Remarks to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, September 12, 1960.)
In the meantime, consider a strategy of non-violent but creative, fun but telling resistance that reminds the Christian majority at every turn how divisive religion in government can be and why the Founders choose to separate all religions from all governmental processes.
Here are a few suggestions:
* Seek equal time, or at least some time to express a preference for non-prayers, whether silent moments or eloquent statements in favor of reason, equality for all, respect for diversity and separation of religion from the public square and all its functions. A marvelous initiative along these lines is The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” contest. Those who deliver invocations of an agnostic, secular, freethought, atheist or other nonreligious form are asked to video the remarks and submit a copy to FFRF. No doubt, enlightenment if not fame and fortune will follow for all. Details are available at the FFRF website.
* Lodge complaints by writing letters-to-the-editor of local papers or, if more ambitious, organize and/or join protests. Support groups that undertake legal action, like FFRF, Americans United and so on are deserving of our financial backing. Do not be silenced. Do not acquiesce to or show deference toward or even respect for sectarian prayers. It is not illegal to dissent or raise objections.
* Talk about prayer, separation and bad law affecting the best kind of America we all desire with friends and others. In varied ways, express polite skepticism that praying contributes to better government. Really now – who really believes some supernatural entity is going to visit the brains of local politicians in order to guide them to build better sewage systems, sort out zoning issues, deal with potholes, collect stray animals and so on? Has the Deity nothing better to do? Is it really impressed by clergy prayer offered in town halls? How is this kind of behavior different from magical thinking, witchcraft or primitive cultural practices that implored sky gods to bring rain, stop rain, cure disease or smite enemies? Isn’t this embarrassing, beneath the dignity and intelligence of sensible beings?
* Question the logic of having clergy do the dirty work. If prayer is designed to get those whom the people elected to think and decide community issues on their behalf, why not require these pols to do their own praying? Why delegate the role of favor-seeking? The politicians ought to have the decency to ask for help themselves – and to create clear messages so any deity that might be listening will know exactly what the hell they want – and when they want it – and why they are not taking responsibility to get it done themselves.
* Ask the politicians who pray this question: WWGWD? That is, what would George Washington do, or rather think, about including prayers at town hall government functions? Or Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and other Founders. Explain to the pols what you think the reaction of George Washington and the rest would be – that they would be appalled and why.
As soon as I heard of this lamentable Supreme Court 5-4 ruling, I thought of a few lines in Robert Green Ingersoll’s marvelous speech entitled “Improved Man.” WWRGIT of this decision? (What would Robert Green Ingersoll think?) Judge for yourself:
He will neither bow nor cringe, nor accept bowing and cringing from others…The Improved Man will believe only in the religion of this world. He will have nothing to do with the miraculous or supernatural. He will find that there is no room in the universe for these things…He will not endeavor by prayers and supplication, by fastings and genuflections, to change the mind of the ‘Infinite’ or alter the course of nature, neither will he employ others to do those things in his place.