The Supreme Court looks at prayer before town meetings

by Walter Olson on May 8, 2014

Cato’s Caleb Brown interviews me about this week’s Supreme Court decision in the local-government invocation case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, discussed earlier here and here.

A few measured, non-alarmist reactions to the decision: Noah Feldman via Rick Pildes, ABC News (quoted views of Rick Garnett, Notre Dame, and Daniel Mach, ACLU), and Howard Wasserman/Prawfs. And Paul Horwitz speculates on whether Kennedy’s formula will work when invocational legislative prayer is employed in knowingly divisive ways. More: a different take on the issue from Christian syndicated columnist Cal Thomas.

{ 5 comments }

1 Jazzizhep 05.08.14 at 10:04 am

I noticed a revealing comment on Mr. Olson’s link to Prawfsblawg. It is not precisely on topic–my apologies if off-topic comments annoy you.

The author of the article states that discrimination cases are getting harder to prove; not because there are less instances of harassment, but because people are smarter and more subtle in their harassment. I would argue that the reason for a decrease in provable evidence is the the ever-expanding definition of what constitutes violations of aforementioned transgressions. Harassment used to be understood as a quid pro quo relationship between an employer and his emplyees. Harassment is now a person feeling uncomfortable because he/she inadvertently heard a joke that was offensive.

The same holds true regarding the establishment clause. A reasonable reading of the 1A suggests govt cannot declare an official religion, or mandate attendance in a church. The definition has now morphed into the gov’t “shall not do or say anything that might be remotely interpreted as referencing religion.”

2 LTEC 05.08.14 at 11:52 am

There is an important issue here totally apart from the legality (or not) of these prayers. The question is: Is saying these prayers a nice thing to do? Is it polite and considerate?

I’ve often read complaints from people who go to a concert for the music, and instead are first subjected to a political speech — of no relevance to the music — by the conductor. Or from people who go to mathematics lecture only to receive an irrelevant political harangue from the speaker. I assume this is all legal, but it is not nice and it is not respectful of the audience.

Similarly, since there is no reason to preface a government meeting with a prayer, or an irrelevant bit of politics, or a play-by-play analysis of the recent football game, then just be considerate of your audience and don’t do it! Certainly some people’s beliefs require prayer, but not publicly at such meetings.

3 Robert 05.08.14 at 1:57 pm

(For once!) Cal Thomas was right on.

I, too, am a religious person. And I don’t like the Government telling me how, when, and where to pray. I don’t like “In God We Trust” on our money (what was that about taking the Lord’s name in vain?), and I don’t like “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance.

One of the reasons for my sensitivity, of course, is that I’m Jewish. So these non-Jewish prayers are against my tradition. But good for Cal Thomas to realize that forcing a prayer down your throat should offend the sensibilities of truly religious people.

4 Boblipton 05.08.14 at 3:17 pm

Is it possible that not only is discrimination growing more subtle, Jazzihep, but that it is growing less frequent? Overlawyered, of course, has a bias towards reporting false positives as one of the basic themes of its existence. I recall about thirty years ago when my brother had hired a nice ethnic Indian woman as his secretary. I asked him if the elderly Jewish tenants had objected, then stopped, said “Never mind that…. how is her work?”

As for your comments, LTEC, growing up Jewish in the US is good training for taking part in meaningless ritual that has nothing to do with anything. Why do we sing the national anthem before a game? Worse, why do we sing the Canadian National Anthem when the Blue Jays are in Yankee Stadium? From my viewpoint, they’re both meaningless rituals, particularly when I seem to be the only person in the Stadium willing to sing — although for the Canadian National Anthem, I sing the words to “Air Canada” taught to me by a friend who manages to be a Canadian Nationalist and slip in random lines from “Oh, Saruman”. No one notices.

If you are going to go around continually outraged by meaningless ritual, you’re going to have a stroke.

Bob

5 Jazzizhep 05.08.14 at 5:51 pm

@boblipton

I wasn’t offering an opinion, just noting how the author implies that if one perceives a decrease in discrimination/harassment, it is because people are better had hiding–not because it has actually decreased.

But yes, I certainly believe discrimination has decreased greatly. Which is why I think it has become necessary to stretch the boundaries of what constitutes a grievance. If micro-aggression and debate rules are not deemed new forms discrimination, what would happen to those who use victims for power and relevance?

As to your last point, I hear ya brutha. Of all things that may displease me in this world, having to sit through 30 seconds of someone’s prayer is not real high on my list of outrages.

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