Skip

Prayers get a new blessing
May 5, 2014 9:55 AM   Subscribe

The Supreme Court ruled (PDF) this morning that the town of Greece, New York did not violate the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month."

The case, was argued last November, and the decision, written by Justice Kennedy, relies on the Court’s decision in Marsh v. Chambers, which upheld the state of Nebraska’s practice of opening legislative sessions with a state-appointed chaplain.

Oyez: A brief history of religion and government in America
posted by roomthreeseventeen (167 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
oh good I cannot wait for my townspeople to hear my "prayer"
posted by robbyrobs at 10:01 AM on May 5 [9 favorites]


Is there a chaplain of the month club I can join?
posted by kmz at 10:02 AM on May 5 [16 favorites]


Given Marsh v. Chambers, it would have been incredibly shocking if this had gone any other way.
posted by Jahaza at 10:02 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Is there a chaplain of the month club I can join?

Not something I'm particularly interested in receiving in the mail every month.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:04 AM on May 5 [8 favorites]


Just said this in a different thread (the Baphomet statue one) - but if I were a believing Christian, I hope I'd be depressed and/or irritated that my expressions of faith are characterized as being merely ceremonial.
posted by rtha at 10:06 AM on May 5 [32 favorites]


Is there a chaplain of the month club I can join?

It seems like a good idea at first but then you figure out the shipping charges, that's where they get you.

Plus really who uses a whole chaplain every month? You'll just end up giving most of them away to friends after a while.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:07 AM on May 5 [48 favorites]


"Dear Lord, I ask You, in Your almighty Wisdom, to plague with boils and unreachable itches all those who would seek to invoke Your Name to open public meetings. Except me. Amen."
- Rev. Sobsister
posted by the sobsister at 10:07 AM on May 5 [35 favorites]


I mean, if they don't really mean anything, then why do them? Why Christian prayer specifically? "Tradition" is a pretty terribly reason even if it's an accurate historical answer.
posted by rtha at 10:07 AM on May 5 [7 favorites]


So a school district can't allow an official student prayer at the beginning of football games (Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe) but my township can allow an official prayer from the chaplain of the month. Er, what's the difference here, we've got captive audiences in both cases, don't we?
posted by kgasmart at 10:08 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]


No surprise.

I've actually been curious about why, after people protested, the council opted to ask a Jewish layman to say a prayer. A dozen temples and synagogues in the Rochester area and they couldn't simply ask an actual rabbi?

In any case, Kagan's dissent hits it on the head: Whether the opening ceremony is during the legislative process or not, it puts residents in a position where they are being prayed at by a paid Christian minister -- who apparently likes to invoke Christian images and talk about Christian holidays -- right before they are about to petition their elected leaders. Seems like a coercive religious environment to me.
posted by zarq at 10:11 AM on May 5 [33 favorites]


Americans United press release.

I agree with Justice Kagan's point that the prayers "violate that norm of religious equality."

And Kennedy's point merely glosses over the diverse and contested interpretations of prayers and invocations:
“If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbeliev­ers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort,” Kennedy wrote. “That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court.”
Whether a prayer "denigrates" non-members of a religion is in the ear of the hearer, and the non-member is likely to hear a different message than the member. This becomes quite clear when the tables are turned on the privileged conservative Christian majority and they are "forced" to listen to a non-Christian invocation, such as the Hindu who was booed from the Senate gallery or the state assembly member in Arizona who offended some of his Christian asssembly members with an inoffensive Humanist invocation.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:12 AM on May 5 [22 favorites]


kmz: Is there a chaplain of the month club I can join?

That's a gift that keeps giving the whole year.
posted by dr_dank at 10:14 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]


If traditions dating back to the first congress are the argument here then do congresscritters get to own slaves again despite the 13th amendment clearly saying slavery is no bueno?
posted by Talez at 10:14 AM on May 5 [11 favorites]


There is also George Washington's hemp crop to consider.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:18 AM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Secular Coalition for America statement:
Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America said that sectarian legislative prayer practice does violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and actively discourages citizens who wish to avoid taking part in sectarian prayers from participating in democratic institutions.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:19 AM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Talez: If traditions dating back to the first congress are the argument here then do congresscritters get to own slaves again despite the 13th amendment clearly saying slavery is no bueno?

Well, no, because there is specifically an Amendment banning that. No one on the court, even the far right ones, says that traditions overrule the Constitution. They're saying traditions can be used to show that this doesn't violate the Constitution, because it was considered kosher by the people who wrote the First Amendment. It's a way of interpretation, not counter-argument. If there was a later amendment specifically banning this, then they wouldn't use that argument, even if they were personally against the hypothetical amendment.

For what it's worth, anyone making that arugment is assuredly right, most of the people who wrote the First Amendment would not think that this town's practice violates it. I just don't think this matters, due to the plain language of the Amendment and our evolving standards.
posted by spaltavian at 10:20 AM on May 5 [5 favorites]




I've actually been curious about why, after people protested, the council opted to ask a Jewish layman to say a prayer.

Basically the answer is that someone didn't bother to put the words "synagogue near Greece, NY" into Google Maps:

"Presumably, Jewish resi­dents of the town worship at one or more of those [Rochester area] syna­gogues, but because these synagogues fall outside the town’s borders, they were not listed in the town’s local directory, and the responsible town employee did not include them on her list."
posted by griphus at 10:22 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Whether a prayer "denigrates" non-members of a religion is in the ear of the hearer

Well, as a Jew, I find that everything about how G-d would abandon our covenant and form a new one involving worshiping the icon of his 'son' and some 'holy spirit' jazz disparages my belief. After all, what is Christian prayer but a refutation of my own religion?
posted by mikelieman at 10:23 AM on May 5 [24 favorites]


"oh lord, kill these fools swiftly. now, on to the meeting!"
posted by bruce at 10:23 AM on May 5 [15 favorites]


Is there a chaplain of the month club I can join?

My mother is an Episcopal priest and, when 9/11 happened, she and a rabbi friend and an imam did an interfaith service the next day. She didn't know the imam particularly well at that point but asked him if he'd want to preach a sermon to her congregation, an offer he accepted.

A lot of members of her congregation were not happy about this. Not only was there a lot of fear and distrust in the US, but many of them were immigrants from parts of the world with intense religious conflict and they didn't want a Muslim preaching in their church. They were angry and frightened and upset. When the imam went up to the pulpit to preach, everyone was silent, many of them hostile and distrustful. My mom said she was pretty terrified, too, because she had NO IDEA what he was going to say, and all she could think was "What have I done? What is going to happen? Why did I do this?". Anyway, the imam got to the pulpit, everyone went silent, and he began his sermon. The first words out of his mouth were "Dear believers...", and about half the congregation began to cry. My mom said he could have read the phone book after that, no one really remembers or cares what else he said. "Dear believers" was the entire sermon, and it was perfect and exactly what everyone needed to hear.

There was a young man in her congregation, a Nigerian immigrant to whom church was really important. He was really, really angry with her when she invited the imam to preach and felt really hostile and upset, until the sermon. Afterwards, he was shaken because he had been so sure he was right that this was unacceptable and he'd turned out to be so wrong. He started wondering what else he was wrong about, and ended up getting in touch with his father to whom he hadn't spoken in three years. His father died two weeks later, and the young man had had the chance to make peace with him.

You never know what a surprise religious figure can accomplish.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:24 AM on May 5 [117 favorites]


Hmm. Another plank to add to my platform for public office.

Issue 1: Mandatory greeting is "Outta sight!" complete with Issac-from-Love-Boat double finger-point gesture.

Issue 2: Voting is a national holiday, bring the kids, have some pie.

Issue 3: All meetings begin with playback of "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in its entirety. (If "Frampton Comes Alive" is unavailable, "Jukebox Hero" may be substituted in its place.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:25 AM on May 5 [21 favorites]


Dear God- We beseech you in your infinite power and wisdom to do whatever it takes to get us the hell out of Greece, New York; and for that matter, the greater Rochester area and Monroe County as a whole. Amen.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:25 AM on May 5 [8 favorites]


East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94: "Alabama Chief Justice: First Amendment applies only to Christians [Not The Onion]"
Speaking at the Pastor for Life Luncheon, which was sponsored by Pro-Life Mississippi, Chief Justice Roy Moore....
Wait a minute. He was removed from office over the ten commandments in the Alabama Supreme Courthouse scandal. How the hell...

Oh, for fuck's sake: (2013) Alabama re-elected Roy Moore as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, nine years after he was forced out of the position.

Seriously, Alabama? Seriously?
posted by zarq at 10:26 AM on May 5 [35 favorites]


if I were a believing Christian, I hope I'd be depressed and/or irritated that my expressions of faith are characterized as being merely ceremonial.

As a practicing Catholic, I was truly upset at the way Justice Scalia tried to strip the meaning from the cross in oral argument a few years ago. The cross is a specific and important symbol for Christians. It's not a generic sign of goodwill or respect for veterans or whatever.

This public-display-of-religion stuff has always struck me as something that is bad for Christianity for just this reason.
posted by gauche at 10:26 AM on May 5 [27 favorites]


You never know what a surprise religious figure can accomplish.

After your lovely story, it might be in bad taste to make a Monty Python joke, but I still want to.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:26 AM on May 5 [14 favorites]


After rereading, I think 'renunciation' works better there....
posted by mikelieman at 10:26 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Religion News Service: Supreme Court approves sectarian prayer at public meetings
Ira Lupu, law professor emeritus at George Washington University who specializes in the First Amendment, said the ruling “effectively did away with decades of understanding” on how to deal with prayer in state, city and school board meetings.

In past cases, legislative groups that consistently prayed in Jesus’ name lost. But if they tried to make some reasonable effort to have a diverse or pluralistic pattern of prayer, they would win. It was the pattern that mattered,” he said.

The Monday decision “does away with that. It does not insist on any such reasonable effort to make prayer non-sectarian or to push for diversity. The majority faith in a particular community can dictate the prayers and minority faiths could be left out if they don’t step up and say, ‘Hey, what about us?’”

Consequently, said Lupu, “a town or a city can effectively identify itself with a particular religious tradition. I think that is what establishment of religion is supposed to prevent. That’s why I think it’s a very bad decision.”
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:26 AM on May 5 [7 favorites]


The only way to apply this ruling fairly is to have a rota system of all the world's religions. This will of course largely consist of fringe cults with a handful of followers. It will be interesting to see how long the council enjoys being screamed at each morning vis-à-vis their alien overlords
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:27 AM on May 5 [6 favorites]


After your lovely story, it might be in bad taste to make a Monty Python joke, but I still want to.

Do It.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:27 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]


Because the court doesn't want to decide which prayers might be impermissibly sectarian during a government function, the solution is to allow them all instead of disallow them all?
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:27 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]


After all, no one will expect it!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:27 AM on May 5 [11 favorites]


Jesus Christ. What a terrible decision.
posted by foggy out there now at 10:29 AM on May 5 [5 favorites]


mikelieman: " Well, as a Jew, I find that everything about how G-d would abandon our covenant and form a new one involving worshiping the icon of his 'son' and some 'holy spirit' jazz disparages my belief. After all, what is Christian prayer but a refutation of my own religion?"

At least if they were going to co-opt the religion and try to make something new out of it, they could have kept the good parts. ;)
posted by zarq at 10:31 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Those interested in some insider attorney views might be interested in subscribing to or browsing the archives (this month's archive) of the Religionlaw listserv maintained by Eugene Volokh.

Professor Steven Jamar's initial impressions from the list:
So advising city and town councils on how to meet the current establishment standards would require what? A safe harbor would be do it non-sectarian. A slightly less safe harbor would be go ahead with the sectarian, but try to balance who does the prayer among denominations and religions formally represented in your community. Probably ok would be just one guy from one religion doing it for years on end in a sectarian manner, as long as it wasn’t coercive (whatever that might mean in this setting) and so long as some sort of indication was given, regardless of how pro forma and even insincere, that it the government was not endorsing that particular view or even religion in general.

It is clear that separation is almost gone from establishment jurisprudence now and that we are deep into accommodationist mode and that neutrality means not as between religion and non-religion but only as among religious sects — in this singular sort of context.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:33 AM on May 5 [8 favorites]


Is there a chaplain of the month club I can join?

Yeah, but don't sign up! You have to tell them every month NOT to send you the chaplains you don't want, otherwise they just show up. April's is sitting in the corner scowling at me because I won't share my sandwich.
posted by dobbs at 10:37 AM on May 5 [10 favorites]


Do they not realize that when you combine government and religion, BOTH sides lose?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:39 AM on May 5 [8 favorites]


griphus: " "Presumably, Jewish resi­dents of the town worship at one or more of those [Rochester area] syna­gogues, but because these synagogues fall outside the town’s borders, they were not listed in the town’s local directory, and the responsible town employee did not include them on her list.""

I take it back. With a legislature that stupid, the town's residents need all the prayer they can get.
posted by zarq at 10:40 AM on May 5 [5 favorites]


neutrality means not as between religion and non-religion but only as among religious sects

This makes me so very mad.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:41 AM on May 5 [9 favorites]


I find the wailing and gnashing of teeth (hopefully using that reference isn't too oppressive ;) a little overwrought--as spaltavian points out, this is one arena where Scalia's insane preference towards "Founder's Intent" is actually quite useful and legitimate.

Furthermore, the worry that the conservative half of the court has about a moving target is very real--how do you codify the dividing line between "too sectarian" and not? And how do you expect lower courts to constantly make that interpretation? Because those should be the concerns of the supremes, and I don't understand how you fix those problems without strictly banning any prayers before governmental meetings (which is not at all supported by precedent and would be a huge leap for the court).

That said, I'll probably tuck into the decision later to see how much of this is actually addressed by the court.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:41 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


gauche: This public-display-of-religion stuff has always struck me as something that is bad for Christianity for just this reason.

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full."

I heard this again after witnessing a public prayer session in the state capitol, where anyone can sign up and talk in the public area for some allotted amount of time. So unlike opening a public meeting with a prayer, this is more of a public pulpit for any and all to use in their turn, but it still struck me as quite the opposite of the separation of church and state to have this group praying for the legislature to make the right decisions.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:42 AM on May 5 [24 favorites]


Rereading my comment and noticing how one-sided it is, I just want to say: this is not a slam dunk either way. That's why all the sadness over it seems over-the-top.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:45 AM on May 5


neutrality means not as between religion and non-religion but only as among religious sects

This is exactly why the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. I hope its many communicants will don their colanders, put penne to paper, and head down to their municipal building (if it's not too farfelle), to demand representation and hopefully put an end to this fusilliness.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:45 AM on May 5 [30 favorites]


filthy light thief beat me to the quote, but somebody needs to use one of these as a reason to recite Matt. 6:5-8:
5 "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (ESV)
Do modern Christians think that Jesus stuttered in the above quote? Seriously, I do not understand how this is reconciled intellectually by pastors who proclaim the need for public prayer. Or for any prayer other than the Lord's Prayer which follows immediately.
posted by graymouser at 10:50 AM on May 5 [26 favorites]


I thought most prayers went to influencing the outcomes of sports games and movie awards these days..
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:54 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Modern day Protestantism in America has little do with the teaching and philosophies of Jesus, with the exception of a few select bits.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:54 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]


graymouser: Do modern Christians think that Jesus stuttered in the above quote?

No, I think many modern Christians view the Bible as a buffet: leave the stuff you don't like, and heap on the stuff that you do.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:54 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]


Graymouser, as a Christian I am in total agreement and point this out to others often. I mean it's right there in red.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:54 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]


"Founders' intent" is only "useful" in two cases: 1) you think the founders received the constitution as a gift from god, and that whatever they did is inherently correct (unless overridden by a constitutional amendment(?)) or 2) one wants to simply dispatch this case in a logical manner without actually considering the merits of having or not having official prayer sessions.

There's no reason that the thoughts of the founders as to what sort of society they wanted to create are relevant to us today unless we too can come to the same conclusion. The founders weren't magic, and we owe no deference to their prejudices. The fact that we have constitutional amendments overriding the founders' assumptions shows this; it does not show that we still owe deference to any non-overridden assumptions they had. If those assumptions were justified then they will stand on their own, and let someone make that argument. If those assumptions were justified purely based on prejudice, and have no backing in what we today would think of as religions freedom, then it's the court's job to fix this! The only reason not to do so is to avoid upsetting a religious majority, and "founders' intent" is merely an escape route to do this.
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:04 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]




Do modern Christians think that Jesus stuttered in the above quote? Seriously, I do not understand how this is reconciled intellectually by pastors who proclaim the need for public prayer. Or for any prayer other than the Lord's Prayer which follows immediately.
posted by graymouser at 12:50 PM on May 5


I don't presume to know what modern Christians think, but it could be that there is a different takeaway from the passage you cite. That is, it could be taken as a critcism of the purpose of the prayer, not the forum of it. Jesus is frequently critical of Pharisees and others who do out of moral goodness instead of love for God. The passage from Matthew can be read in accord with those messages that it is not public prayer that is the problem, but that some people prayer to be seen and show how good they are. After all, there are other statements and acts by Jesus in the Gospels in which there is communal prayer and thanks. After breaking the loaves and before feeding the multitudes, Jesus offered a prayer of thanks. Also, Christian orthodoxy supports the community of worship in a church--Jesus did want to build a church--which necessarily involves public prayer, so I don't think you can say public prayer is itself wrong.

That being said, I would think the "ceremonial prayer" in a legislature would pretty starkly run afoul of the teaching of Matthew as it seems to be something done just to be seen doing it and not because there is a heartfelt and sincere.

As far as legal opinions go, this one seems to have been in line with stare decisis on this matter, though the Court's jurisprudence on prayer is muddled, at best.
posted by dios at 11:12 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]


Pointing out the difference between vertical and horizontal prayers seems not very insightful in this instance. The Court is actually rather explicit that it's discussing a practice directed, as Ebert says, sideways at others.
posted by cribcage at 11:13 AM on May 5


"Founders' intent" is only "useful" in two cases: 1) you think the founders received the constitution as a gift from god, and that whatever they did is inherently correct (unless overridden by a constitutional amendment(?)) or 2) one wants to simply dispatch this case in a logical manner without actually considering the merits of having or not having official prayer sessions.

This is not true at all.

If you are someone who is given authority by a document and only to the extent to interpret that document, it would be relevant to your inquiry what the document means and was meant to mean when it was written.

Article III judges are not freely granted with the right to decide how things should be. Their authority is circumscribed. And in that circumscription, there ware times when trying to understand what the words meant is important.
posted by dios at 11:14 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]


I think in the end what it means is that if you've watered it down enough to be meaningless, then yes, it is in fact meaningless. Which--well, I don't know why people who are that religious would be okay with it, but it works for me, I suppose. The unfortunate part is that I'm quite sure there are municipalities where the prayer is considerably less acceptable, but, well, if those aren't the cases that people actually sue over, they can't rule on that here. I think the closest they've come is trying to lay out that distinction in clear language so that if that case does come up, this case can't be cited in support, or at least can be effectively reputed.

Not that I would have minded if they decided otherwise, but. If things over time run towards meaningless public ceremony, then they also stand a good chance of petering out on their own.
posted by Sequence at 11:25 AM on May 5


7 "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

Do modern Christians think that Jesus stuttered in the above quote?


Apparently, Founder's Intent doesn't apply to the New Testament.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:26 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]


i hereby reserve for myself the rap name "happenin' chaplain". the sinister minister was already taken.
posted by bruce at 11:27 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Seriously, Alabama? Seriously?

As we like to say in South Carolina, "Lord, we thank you for Alabama, that we might not always be complete jackasses in thy sight. Amen. Pass the chicken."
posted by octobersurprise at 11:29 AM on May 5 [6 favorites]


dios: " Article III judges are not freely granted with the right to decide how things should be. Their authority is circumscribed. And in that circumscription, there ware times when trying to understand what the words meant is important."

They're obviously not infallible. Over the years the SCOTUS has taken huge latitude in interpreting those words, sometimes resulting in very questionable case decisions. Such as: Plessy v. Ferguson. Dred Scott. Buck v. Bell. Katzenbach v. McClung. US v. Carolene. West Coast Hotel v. Parrish. Korematsu v. the US. Etc., etc.

Questioning the majority Justices' reasoning and apparent biases in this case seems appropriate. Especially since it seems counter to common sense.
posted by zarq at 11:29 AM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Apparently, Founder's Intent doesn't apply to the New Testament.
The argument could be made that the New Testament was a construction of Imperial Rome for the purpose of preserving the empire. From that perspective, any use of the New Testament for purposes of statecraft is perfectly consistent with the founder's intent.

Or were you talking about that Jesus guy?
posted by b1tr0t at 11:32 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]


it's another 5-4. if this is how it's gonna be, think of all the money we could save by just eliminating congress. no more ads at election time! like i used to tell people in 2000 "don't forget to vote, because every vote counts...

as long as you're a member of the united states supreme court."
posted by bruce at 11:36 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


if you've watered it down enough to be meaningless, then yes, it is in fact meaningless.

The Court has played this game for decades, trying to void religious content from government religious speech and portray it as purely historical and ceremonial (gauche links to one example above), but the facts on the ground demonstrate that these prayers, for both supporters and opponents, are in no way void of religious meaning. When people object to government prayer, its defenders act as vigorously as they do because they want the government to promote their religious views and see opponents as threatening their religion:
This was true not only in Greece, but also in cities and towns across the country, where objections to legislative prayer have led to acrimony, vandalism, and even death threats.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:37 AM on May 5 [9 favorites]


So, now the agenda needs to read, "Item 1: Meaningless and Wholly Ceremonial Prayer delivered by...", right?
posted by mikelieman at 11:39 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]




Bruce, everyone complains that the supreme court has too much power when they make decisions that they don't like. Would you still say the same thing if the vote had been 5-4 in your favor? Or 9-0 against your side?
posted by rebent at 11:49 AM on May 5


Can't we just be civil, respectful, and tolerant of each other?

If a statehouse or government body actively denies your religious group the opportunity to lead prayers, that would be unconstitutional discrimination. But allowing religious words of blessing to continue, as they have for more than 200 years, is a pleasant, quaint tradition which only offends those looking to be offended.
posted by General Tonic at 11:51 AM on May 5


i hereby reserve for myself the rap name "happenin' chaplain".

Dibs on "Outré Padre."
posted by octobersurprise at 11:53 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]


God Almighty I wish someone in my rust belt town would sue so I could get out of giving these monthly prayers.
I got shoe-horned into it because they couldn't get enough other ministers signed up and my church is less than a block from the city building.
But the meetings start at 7 p.m. and they make you sit there through all the proclamations. "Today, herewithtofor and henceforward shall be it known as chocolate-covered-celery day, wherein our fair municipality is most prodigious in its celery production, and wherein the shimmering and nutritious foodstuff is appropriately fashioned as a vessel for conveying chocolate frostings, and on and on and oh my god"

I thought I could get out of it by offering a very perfunctory and universalist-type prayer, a few lines, In All Your Many Names, Amen. But I forgot that the council-humans probably like the shorter prayers and now I'm doing it all. the. time.

Right when I should be eating dinner.

I stopped saying the pledge of allegiance afterward. It's unamerican to keep a preacher from his evening collations.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:53 AM on May 5 [13 favorites]


i hereby reserve for myself the rap name "happenin' chaplain".

Dibs on "Outré Padre."



I call "Master Pastor"!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:55 AM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Prayer Mon Frère
posted by rebent at 11:56 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


If a statehouse or government body actively denies your religious group the opportunity to lead prayers, that would be unconstitutional discrimination.

How many Muslims or Jews led prayers at town hall meetings in Greece, NY?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:57 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Bring in a rug, get down on all fours, and start chanting in Arabic. We'll see how long the Scalias of the word support state-sponsored prayer now.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:58 AM on May 5 [8 favorites]


once i got bold and prayed, "Lord, help them remember that small actions often have large consequences."
One of the council-persons slapped the desk and shouted, "Amen! Amen."
I think they were trying to get the roads fixed or some such routine thing and were anticipating a protracted squabble. Drearily, I realized I had inadvertently endorsed a political position.
but really the roads are in a shameful state.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:58 AM on May 5 [7 favorites]


But allowing religious words of blessing to continue, as they have for more than 200 years, is a pleasant, quaint tradition which only offends those looking to be offended.

The arguments on the other side offer substantive reasons why the prayers are unconstitutional and explain the negative effect they have on the civic health of the nation.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:00 PM on May 5 [13 favorites]


I find the wailing and gnashing of teeth (hopefully using that reference isn't too oppressive ;) a little overwrought

I'm surprised anyone who uses the phrase "wailing and gnashing of teeth" finds ANYTHING overwrought. Or is that one of those phrases you use to describe things only when other people do them?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:04 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


This is exactly why the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists.

If a pastafarian pastor can make a reflective and affirming invocation, I don't see why they shouldn't be welcome under the law and in practice.

What are the chances of that happening? Slim.

It isn't that a good humanist couldn't give a decent invocation. There's probably enough that could take the chance to outshine vain religious repetition that you could even show off some holy godlessness. Hell, stand up and recite some good ol' Sagan.

It's that using the FSM as cover, you can't do it, because as clever as it is in making some limited points about pluralism, it's really just a conceptual prop that frays when you try to push it to do some of the things religion actually does for people.

On the other hand, to the extent that religion functions primarily as a tribe for people, maybe pastafarianism is an excellent analogy.

Meaningless and Wholly Ceremonial Prayer

Are we really settling on the idea that the only inspiring or broadly agreeable statements are meaningless ones?

Guess we have bigger problems than public prayer.
posted by namespan at 12:06 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Are we really settling on the idea that the only inspiring or broadly agreeable statements are meaningless ones?

ANY prayer that mentions Jesus is offensive to me. As long as your 'inspiring or broadly agreeable statements' don't mention "Jesus" or a "Holy Spirit" or a "New Covenant" or "Resurrection" or "Died for us..."......

What's the odds of that happening do you think?
posted by mikelieman at 12:10 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


If a pastafarian pastor can make a reflective and affirming invocation, I don't see why they shouldn't be welcome under the law and in practice.

You seem to misunderstand why the FSM exists. He exists not to touch the world with his noodley appendage. He exists to touch the world with his satire and ridiculousness. The point isn't for a pastor to make a reflective and affirming invocation, it's that the whole damn process is a ridiculous sham that only serves to reinforce the WASP hegemony of a community.
posted by Talez at 12:10 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Humanist Group Launches Secular Invocations Program in Response to Supreme Court Ruling
Monica Miller, attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said, “While we would have preferred the Supreme Court to rule against any kind of prayer during government meetings by overruling the 1983 Marsh v. Chambers decision, the Supreme Court’s ruling emphasizes that local governments must be inclusive in their prayer policies, meaning that humanists must be allowed to deliver secular invocations whenever a government allows citizens of other faiths to deliver prayers at its meetings.”
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:11 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Preamble: ISA Declaration of Principles (First Edition)

The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
The language is not Narn, or Human, or Centauri, or Gaim or Minbari
It speaks in the language of hope
It speaks in the language of trust
It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.
But always it is the same voice
It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us,
And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born
It is the small, still voice that says
We are one
No matter the blood
No matter the skin
No matter the world
No matter the star:
We are one
No matter the pain
No matter the darkness
No matter the loss
No matter the fear
We are one
Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognize this
singular truth and this singular rule:
That we must be kind to one another
Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost
diminishes us.
We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire
that will light the way to a better future.
We are one.
posted by mikelieman at 12:14 PM on May 5 [13 favorites]


Why this shit needs to stop in a nutshell.
posted by Talez at 2:43 PM on May 5



From that link:

But to our extreme dismay, the clergyman who took the microphone and began to pray was not a Protestant minister or a Catholic priest, but a Buddhist priest who proceeded to offer up prayers and intonations to god-head figures that our tradition held to be pagan.

We were frozen in shock and incredulity! What to do? To continue to stand and observe this prayer would represent a betrayal of our own faith and imply the honoring of a pagan deity that was anathema to our beliefs. To sit would be an act of extreme rudeness and disrespect in the eyes of our Japanese hosts and neighbors, who value above all other things deference and respect in their social interactions. I am sorry to say that in the confusion of the moment we chose the easier path and elected to continue to stand in silence so as not to create a scene or ill will among those who were seated nearby.

As I thought through the incident over the next few days I supposed that the duty of offering the pre-game prayer rotated through the local clergy and we just happened to arrive on the night that the responsibility fell to the Buddhist priest. However, after inquiring I learned that due to the predominance of Buddhist and Shinto adherents in this town, it was the normal practice to have a member of one these faiths offer the pre-game prayer, and Christian clergy were never included. Needless to say that was our first and last football game.


I will never not be surprised at the utter failure of the imagination exhibited by so many proponents of state-sponsored prayer. It's like they're just not able to conceive of what it would be like to be in the minority until it actually happens to them.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:15 PM on May 5 [41 favorites]


zarq: "Oh, for fuck's sake: (2013) Alabama re-elected Roy Moore as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, nine years after he was forced out of the position.

Seriously, Alabama? Seriously?
"

Well, I'd be more shocked if they DIDN'T re-elect him. I mean, Alabama is like the Texas of the South (I KID, TEXAS, I KID! Even you guys come nowhere NEAR the guano of Alabama, so put down your pitchforks (and don't worry, I totally understand where y'all are comin' from now that I've had these past years of "FitzWalkerStan" in Wisconsin)).

On another note, though, the incongruency between the rule stating the people can't pray before High School Football (America's OTHER national religion) and this means I have a feeling we're going to see a retread of the Football one with the new ruling taken into account which means, seriously wtf...
posted by symbioid at 12:16 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


I call "Master Pastor"!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:55 PM

My colleague, a Presbyterian, uses my name as a verb in this sense - my first name is Nathan, and he calls me 'Nate', and if on Sunday morning he is at a loss for words he claims that he closes his eyes, channels his Congregationalist peer, steps into the pulpit and just "pastornates" for ten minutes or so.

I am not without humor but I will not be mocked by scotch-drinkers.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:16 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


i want the baphomet people from yesterday's thread to get in on this.

i will answer rebent's 11:49 question in my special rod serling voice...

imagine, if you will, an alternate universe in which all law was handed down by an unaccountable nine-person panel comprised of six catholics and three jews, who wrote and interpreted their own talmud in real time...
posted by bruce at 12:17 PM on May 5 [13 favorites]


On another note, though, the incongruency between the rule stating the people can't pray before High School Football (America's OTHER national religion) and this means I have a feeling we're going to see a retread of the Football one with the new ruling taken into account which means, seriously wtf...

What do you mean "going to"? It's already started.
posted by Talez at 12:20 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


My colleague, a Presbyterian, uses my name as a verb in this sense - my first name is Nathan, and he calls me 'Nate', and if on Sunday morning he is at a loss for words he claims that he closes his eyes, channels his Congregationalist peer, steps into the pulpit and just "pastornates" for ten minutes or so.

And when I do it, I'm the Rabbinate!
posted by Sophie1 at 12:23 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


I'm confused Nate, are you for or against such a world?
posted by rebent at 12:24 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


a pleasant, quaint tradition which only offends those looking to be offended.

I should just let this lie. But I gotta tell you. I am Jewish. I don't go around claiming to be a victim or complaining about how bad my ancestors had it in Russia. I don't see anti-Semites hiding under every bed. I am offended by crappy television about a hundred times more often than I'm offended by something political. But yes, when I'm in an explicitly Christian environment, I feel like I'm someplace I don't belong. Please don't think that feeling is unusual among American Jews.

Now you are welcome to say Jews shouldn't feel that way, or that the Constitution shouldn't be read to forbid people from making us feel that way in the context of participating in local government. But please don't say we don't feel that way.
posted by escabeche at 12:26 PM on May 5 [35 favorites]


How many Muslims or Jews led prayers at town hall meetings in Greece, NY?

This is addressed in the decision.

...a pleasant, quaint tradition which only offends those looking to be offended.

In practice, that's probably true 90 percent of the time. These lawsuits tend to be brought by people who are more like Michael Newdow than Rosa Parks. But that doesn't mean there isn't a legitimate objection.

Small-town governing can be capricious. It's often done by people who are more petty than smart. They are attracted to the job because it gives them small amounts of power, and we let them do it because it's grating and thankless. Most of us prefer to use our time in ways that are more productive or more enjoyable, and as a price, we tolerate the minor damage inflicted by those people's incompetence and abuses.

This isn't much consolation to you as a homeowner or businessperson when you need some action from small-town government. If the session opens with a Catholic prayer, and you are sincerely offended by Catholic prayer and wish not to participate, you might feel pressured to bow your head anyway. You might be afraid that someone will notice if you don't and your application will be denied. This fear is not unreasonable. And eventually one of these cases will come along with some data to suggest that's exactly what has been happening.

humanists must be allowed to deliver secular invocations

Of course. The question will be whether you are coming along as a member of the community who wishes to share in the practice, or whether you're an outsider looking to use a particular community to stage a stunt.
posted by cribcage at 12:26 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


bruce: imagine, if you will, an alternate universe in which all law was handed down by an unaccountable nine-person panel comprised of six catholics and three jews, who wrote and interpreted their own talmud in real time...

Spoiler: one of them is a robit.
posted by dr_dank at 12:29 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


cylons on the supreme court...
posted by rebent at 12:33 PM on May 5


dr_dank, NO SPOILERS! when you told me jesus was coming back, it ruined the last four "left behind" books.
posted by bruce at 12:35 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


The point isn't for a [FSM] pastor to make a reflective and affirming invocation, it's that the whole damn process is a ridiculous sham that only serves to reinforce the WASP hegemony of a community.

Sorry, I might have been giving people playing with an adolescent analogy for religion a little too much credit for understanding what religion does beyond your summary, but you're quite correct, that is exactly the understanding that a pastafarian would probably convey.
posted by namespan at 12:40 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


The question will be whether you are coming along as a member of the community who wishes to share in the practice, or whether you're an outsider looking to use a particular community to stage a stunt.

Such a question, if asked at all, must be asked equally of Christian and non-Christian alike. If Humanists are to be subject to extra scrutiny, to be suspected of performing a stunt and not sharing their sincere beliefs when the Christian is assumed to be sincere, then that's just another example of the insidious, anti-democratic sentiment instilled by the practice of government prayer.

There are atheists and Humanists in our communities even if they aren't always obvious to their religious neighbors. When they raise their voice to share their authentic non-theistic worldview, whether in a government-sponsored invocation or elsewhere, they are due the good faith presumption of charitable intention just as would be given to those whose religious background is culturally dominant in a given community.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:50 PM on May 5 [21 favorites]


If you open your government functions with a supposedly “open” ritual but any atheist/humanist who participates will by default be viewed as a suspicious outsider, maybe it's not so open.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:59 PM on May 5 [18 favorites]


I agree, audi alteram partem, and furthermore - many Christians aren't sincere, especially when they're praying. They're trying to get their prayer to have some sort of homiletical effect on the other humans who are patiently listening to their little one-way conversation with the I Am.

It's a flavor of spiritual violence that I really loathe. And political settings really bring it out in people. I wasn't being entirely jokey with my comment above - I shouldn't have said that line in the prayer. It was out of character and I remember it because it brings me shame. I especially cringe at the "help them remember" business - how patronizing and parochial. How the hell should I presume to know what's on their hearts?

If our prayers are worth anything, they should be honest, simple, without malice, free of political agendas and personal theologies.
And then you're left with Anne Lamott's, "Help, thanks, wow." Maybe I'll try that next time I'm supposed to pray for our precious town.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:05 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


...then that's just another example of the insidious, anti-democratic sentiment

This comes across a bit men's-rights-y. Obviously religious folk are just as capable of insincere stunts as anyone else. But in the context we are actually talking about here, and not some hypothetical other context, we have what looks to be a sincere community being met with "Well, I guess now..." rhetoric from thousands of people who couldn't place their town on a map. Consequently, no, there would be nothing insidious about asking that question.
posted by cribcage at 1:05 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


This comes across a bit men's-rights-y.

I made the argument in good faith. Justice Kagan, Justice O'Connor, and other Supreme Court justices, attorneys, legal scholars and activists have made similar good faith arguments that government sponsored prayer had adverse effects on our deliberative processes. I get that other justices have argued otherwise (like in today's decision), and I'm willing to engage in discussion.

Obviously religious folk are just as capable of insincere stunts as anyone else.

I'm talking about the perception of insincerity and how it tends to accrue along lines of power: the times when dominant groups view minorities with suspicion because they are minorities and not because of the content of any words or actions.

Of course people of all beliefs can be insincere. As I said, there needs to be equal treatment, which is hard to do when a community holds prejudiced attitudes, conscious or unconscious, about minority groups.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:16 PM on May 5 [6 favorites]


Consequently, no, there would be nothing insidious about asking that question.

What even is the question? Are you a true believer? Are you mocking us? Are you giggling, even a little, deep inside?

If a pastafarian pastor

"Pastafarian Pulpitarian" is up for grabs.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:17 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Despite my (approximate) atheism, I have a soft spot for ceremonial deism.

I get misty at "...and God bless these United States of America...", and at things like "God bless this honorable court." I really do think that, so long as the intentions of the speaker are clearly reasonably pure, there's something stirring about such invocations.

But this.... This is nothing like that. This is some bullshit right here. This is a decision that--not that this is the crucial point, but it throws some light on it--would have obviously gone 180 degrees the other way if there were a lot of, say, Muslim or Buddhist prayers being said in Greece, NY.

I have no sympathy for tactical playing of the victim card. This nonsense doesn't threaten me nor frighten me nor alienate me any such thing. Rather, it pisses me of. Because it's obvious, obvious bullshit.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:26 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


I agree, audi alteram partem, and furthermore - many Christians aren't sincere, especially when they're praying.

I think we make a mistake when we assume this is about religion at all. This is cultural; Greece, N.Y., wants to do this not because they're looking to get good with God, though I'm sure they do, but because this is who they are, this is the type of people they are, or fancy themselves to be: God-fearing Christians. Old school. The type who can't understand why anyone wouldn't be Christian in the first place, and even if they aren't, well OK, they may be nice enough on an individual basis, but we run this show, this is our town, and we don't need no meddlers telling us about separation of church and state.
posted by kgasmart at 1:30 PM on May 5 [6 favorites]


I'll just leave this here.
posted by sfts2 at 1:34 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


And then you're left with Anne Lamott's, "Help, thanks, wow." Maybe I'll try that next time I'm supposed to pray for our precious town.

Such prayer. So god. Much help. Wow.
posted by NoraReed at 2:02 PM on May 5 [15 favorites]


I am reminded of a story my mother tells about a cow orker of hers when she was still living and working in Houston about twenty years ago. There was some kerfluffle about the opening prayer/invocation at City Council meetings, and my mother gently tried to explain to the cow orker that non-Christians felt excluded from those prayers.

The cow orker was horrified. But they do allow non-Christians to open the meeting, she told my mother. They allow Catholics!

Also reminded of one of the Founding Fathers who talked about how freedom of religion meant that in theory a Catholic might become the Congressional Chaplain, but in reality that would never happen because: Catholic. Scalia should be thanking his Catholic stars that we don't honor that sort of original intent any more or he'd never have achieved the heights of public life that he now shits on other people's religions from.
posted by immlass at 2:07 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Christ, what a 5-4 majority of assholes.
posted by etherist at 2:09 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


There are atheists and Humanists in our communities even if they aren't always obvious to their religious neighbors. When they raise their voice to share their authentic non-theistic worldview, whether in a government-sponsored invocation or elsewhere, they are due the good faith presumption of charitable intention just as would be given to those whose religious background is culturally dominant in a given community.

It's worse than that. Humanist celebrants and congregations are accused of bad faith even when they're having weekly meetings, working within local communities, and doing local interfaith work. And then, there was the "worm food" speech on the house floor.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:10 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]




If a statehouse or government body actively denies your religious group the opportunity to lead prayers, that would be unconstitutional discrimination. But allowing religious words of blessing to continue, as they have for more than 200 years, is a pleasant, quaint tradition which only offends those looking to be offended.

What happens to those of us who don't have a religious group? I'm agnostic, so there is literally no prayer than works for me. And some percentage of US adults approaching 1/5 of the population has the potential to be as uncomfortable with prayer as I am.

What part of 'it makes me feel unwelcome in a space where I, as a citizen, should never feel unwelcome' do you not understand? It is just as much an imposition on me to have to listen to prayer as it is on you to have to keep it out of the government space.
posted by librarylis at 2:15 PM on May 5 [24 favorites]


I certainly hope they're going to supply phylacteries at my next town council meeting now.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:42 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


I certainly hope they're going to supply phylacteries at my next town council meeting now.
Could they contain tiny copies of the US Constitution? If so, that could be awesome.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:46 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


Blazecock--I find it interesting that the "spread" is much smaller on the liberal side of the court than on the conservative side. Breyer's, Souter's, and Ginsburg's spreads are not even statistically significant.

The only obvious conclusion is that the calculation method has a liberal bias.
posted by radicalawyer at 3:48 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Much like reality itself.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:55 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


By the time I was in high school, school prayer had long since fallen out of fashion. (I vaguely recall reciting the Lord's Prayer as late as grade 1 maybe, but not much later.)

Instead we'd have a 'Morning Reading' during the morning announcements. Any student could do it, and pick anything a) inspiriational, b) inoffensive, c) not referring to hellfire or damnation for anyone who didn't agree. The idea was to give students something to think about. So sometimes there were Bible quotes, sometimes Bhagavad Gita, sometimes David Suzuki, sometimes Gandhi, sometimes Nellie McClung. I (after something of a battle with the principal; thank goodness for a friend of a friend being a constitutional lawyer) did a reading for World Aids Day two years in a row.

I think that's the only solution. Open meetings with something inspirational, related to the work at hand. Invite religious and non-religious figures in the community to come say their words. So sometimes it's prayer (and even as an atheist I can sort of get the point behind prayer), sometimes it's quoting Sagan; "We are all made of star-stuff."

And sometimes it's quoting G'Kar, and I don't think there's anyone civilized who would argue with that. We are one indeed.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:01 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


My city did without an invocation for DECADES. Maybe 15 years ago they started having one. I fought it tooth and nail as being exclusionary toward a growing non-Christian population in my town, and out of a dislike for religious ostentation.
If your prayer is out of ANYTHING but love of God, it's not prayer in my opinion.
Also a lot of pretty decent people are agnostic/atheist or don't care.
Why are we wasting time on this?
I don't think a rabbi or imam has EVER done the invocation. My city has one mosque and one synagogue. There is also a substantial old Japanese community who are Buddhist or Shinto, don't think any of them ever led the invocation. I just sit or stand quietly and don't say anything. I have to arrive early or on time for this meetings I go to. I don't drive, so I usually need to arrange a ride home.
I know at least one city employee is probably Muslim. He just does what I do.
If they keep it it pretty strictly non-sectarian, I could live with it, but that is not always the case.
I rattled all the cages I was going to on this one back when it came up.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:12 PM on May 5


I, for one, slept better at night knowing that because Judeo-Christian prayers were not being offered at my children’s schools, I didn’t have to worry about them being confronted with Buddhist, Shinto, Wiccan, Satanic or any other prayer ritual I might find offensive.

"Confronted" with Buddhist prayer?? Buddhist in the same breath as Wiccan and Satanic? Can I...Ahhhhh...oh my god...please can I PUNCH SOMETHING, AMERICA??
posted by Mooseli at 4:13 PM on May 5


"Confronted" with Buddhist prayer?? Buddhist in the same breath as Wiccan and Satanic?

Well, on the positive side he took away the right message: not "we should ban Buddhist prayer" as so many others would have, but "hey this is why we have the establishment clause! {lightbulb}".

Of course, its sad that like for many rightwing homophobes who only change when they find out their son/daughter/grandson/niece/whatever is gay, it took a personal lesson for him to see the errors in his thinking.

Whether he thinks Buddhism or Wicca or whatever is evil is irrelevant to me as long as he supports equal treatment/protection. Maybe thats giving up too easy but I'll take it.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:17 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


Blazecock--I find it interesting that the "spread" is much smaller on the liberal side of the court than on the conservative side. Breyer's, Souter's, and Ginsburg's spreads are not even statistically significant.

It certainly clarifies in a quantified way that the Supreme Court is packed with activist judges, but of the extremist conservative variety.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:32 PM on May 5


"extremist conservative variety" means reactionary. A healthy religion doesn't need the state's help to persist. These decisions are evidence of disease, not vigor. If this particular form of bullshi*** errrr religion were healthy it wouldn't even be challenged. There are too many Catholics of a certain sort on the Supreme Court and we've seen what the Catholic Church, and its apologists are capable of. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/05/vatican-united-nations-committee-clerical-sex-abuse
posted by SteveLaudig at 4:45 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]




Even if the court ruled that a prayer was unconstitutional, witnesses still get sworn in with the bible.
posted by Postroad at 7:23 PM on May 5


The majority assumes they are the majority.
My people fled England on a big boat to avoid the noose and rack. We are accustomed to being the weirdos.
When the majority says "restore our rights!" they mean, "make everybody like what I like!"
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:24 PM on May 5


Postroad: "Even if the court ruled that a prayer was unconstitutional, witnesses still get sworn in with the bible."

It is not required to swear on the bible. Another option exists, called "affirming", which is frequently used by atheists, agnostics and people who object to swearing oaths to God, such as Quakers.
posted by workerant at 7:44 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Another comment on Religionlaw from Professor Christopher Lund:
Sometimes liberal Justices have been attacked for being too confident in their judgments about what endorses religion, how alienated people feel because of endorsements of religion, and so on. But parts of Justice Kennedy’s opinion seem equally confident, just on the other side.

On the issue of coercion:
“Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy. And their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed.”
I admire Justice Kennedy tremendously. But he can’t control social conventions with the power of his mind. He said the opposite twenty years ago in Lee, and he was right then.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:52 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


This makes me so angry. Because it is so easy to say a blessing that is utterly and completely universal, and beautifully non-sectarian AND inclusive of agnostics and atheists. Because even including non-believers (oh my!) we're STILL more alike than different. We all want the same damn things. If you feel the need to proclaim words that explicitly indicate otherwise, you're doing it wrong,
posted by desuetude at 11:56 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Fuck it. Just fuck it.
posted by maxwelton at 12:40 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Easy way to make bank: ask to give a Satanist prayer as you travel from place to place. Enjoy the various reasons for rejection and resultant settlements.
posted by jaduncan at 4:15 AM on May 6


Buddhist in the same breath as Wiccan and Satanic?

Er, Wicca in the same breath as Satanism?

I'm an atheist myself with a vague leaning toward Buddhist philosophy (and qualms toward the deism found in much practiced Buddhism as well), but it seems like Satanism is mainly thrown into lists of non-Christian religions to shake up the rubes and discredit all the other sects wholesale. The practicing Wiccans I know are kind, pacifistic, vegan nature lovers. Throwing Wicca under the bus with Satanism is as bad as doing so to Buddhism.

As for the SC case, I live in upstate NY (which, outside a few college towns like the one I live in, is pretty conservative, and there are a lot of little controversies over local governments pushing the right-wing envelope in matters of religion, gay marriage, or abortion rights) and I've been hearing about this case building its way up through the courts for a long time. I'm sad to say I've had no doubt, given our current roster of SC justices, how it was ultimately going to come out.

We all want the same damn things.

I don't think this is true. Some people, such as the defendants in this case, who frequently offer aggressively sectarian prayers in public government or educational forums, want the U.S. government to be explicitly Christian (in part because they are under the delusion, as some members of the SC are, that it once was explicitly Christian), and furthermore, they want you to be a Christian.

If you do not want your government to be explicitly Christian, and if you do not want to be a Christian yourself, then you do not want the same damn things as these folks.
posted by aught at 6:24 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


I want my government to be spiritual, but not religious.
posted by thelonius at 6:37 AM on May 6


I want my government to be spiritual, but not religious.

I'm genuinely curious -- why do you think government itself should be spiritual? Why is spirituality necessary to enforce justice for all, protect against foreign aggressors, insure the domestic peace, and promote the health and general welfare of its citizens?

(Also, I am not sure that the majority of people can distinguish between the terms "spiritual" and "religious"; in practice I think "spiritual" often boils down to more hazily or less devoutly religious.)
posted by aught at 6:58 AM on May 6


I think that without *some* spirituality, it's near impossible to be truly empathetic. I know that without my belief that "We are one" it would be harder. That empathy drives kindness. I don't think there's any argument that the actions of our government should promote "kindness", is there?
posted by mikelieman at 7:04 AM on May 6


Roanoke County Supervisor: After Yesterday’s Supreme Court Ruling, We’re Only Allowing Christian Invocation Prayers
“The freedom of religion doesn’t mean that every religion has to be heard,” said Bedrosian, who added that he is concerned about groups such as Wiccans and Satanists. “If we allow everything … where do you draw the line?”
Re: I think that without *some* spirituality, it's near impossible to be truly empathetic.

And others, myself included, think empathy and kindness are part of our wholly material, natural existence and have no spiritual elements.

The Preamble to the Constitution provides an excellent example of government language promoting truly secular values to which all citizens can aspire whatever their attitudes toward religion, spirituality and the transcendent.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:20 AM on May 6 [8 favorites]


I think that without *some* spirituality, it's near impossible to be truly empathetic.

I know it's not your intent here, but this rhetoric is frequently used to say that atheists and other non-theists can't be fully moral, and therefore are bad role models (the Boy Scouts of America) or have no place in the armed forces chaplaincy.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:48 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


I know that without my belief that "We are one" it would be harder.

Your experience is yours and is true for you, but is not universal. Please remember that as part of your empathy.
posted by rtha at 7:50 AM on May 6 [8 favorites]


I think the expectation of anything but ambiguity in defining 'spirit' and consequently 'spiritual' is the issue here. I have no issues with 'spirit' being the side effect of cognitive processing.
posted by mikelieman at 7:51 AM on May 6


I think that without *some* spirituality, it's near impossible to be truly empathetic. I know that without my belief that "We are one" it would be harder. That empathy drives kindness.

Either you're wrong in universalizing this or I'm lying to myself on a massive scale.
posted by COBRA! at 7:53 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Also: I don't think there's any argument that the actions of our government should promote "kindness", is there?

There isn't. The argument comes when one side says the only or best way to do this is by doing either actual prayer or a thing that looks and acts like prayer even if we call it something else.
posted by rtha at 7:57 AM on May 6


I want my government to be spiritual, but not religious.

Seems like wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Or maybe cutting the cake in half and giving each half away, and still hoping to have cake left over for yourself.

There are a lot of people who aren't going to tolerate "spiritual" without "religious", and they may in fact find it offensive, even heretical, to suggest that there is or can be "spirituality" without religion (their religion) per se. Cf. the hate-on that some very conservative Christians have for UUists. And on the other hand, you're basically calling out humanists and atheists, claiming that they can't be sufficiently empathetic without being 'spiritual', which they may explicitly define themselves as not being, or at least disagree strongly is necessary for empathy.

Seems like a compromise likely to make nobody happy.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:58 AM on May 6


There is no purpose to these public prayers whatsoever. If legislators wish to ask the deity of their choice for guidance in the discharge of their duties, there's no reason they shouldn't be free to do so without an audience.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:58 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


there's no reason they shouldn't be free to do so without an audience.

Yeah, well, there's clearly a performative aspect to most public religion, which is what governmental prayer would be, so that defeats their purpose.

And with the state of current politics, suggesting that someone pray in private instead of in front of a public forum of people who don't necessarily share their beliefs would likely interpreted as cruel repression of their right to exercise their God- and Constitutional-guaranteed religious freedom.
posted by aught at 8:28 AM on May 6


There is no purpose to these public prayers whatsoever.

Of course there is a purpose. The purpose is to make the public statement that the U.S. is a Christian nation.
posted by aught at 8:29 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


I think that without *some* spirituality, it's near impossible to be truly empathetic.

I'm genuinely curious why 'we are one' is superior to 'this person has similar thoughts, feelings and needs to me and I want to respect the feelings and needs of that person because they are as valuable as me'.
posted by jaduncan at 8:30 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


And with the state of current politics, suggesting that someone pray in private instead of in front of a public forum of people who don't necessarily share their beliefs would likely interpreted as cruel repression of their right to exercise their God- and Constitutional-guaranteed religious freedom.

Only if the prayer is Christian. I am pretty sure (I would be happy to be wrong about this) that a practicing Muslim who'd choose to pray in a public forum in front of people who don't share his or her beliefs would get a lot of negative attention and racist and xenophobic bullshit thrown at them.
posted by rtha at 8:35 AM on May 6


I'm genuinely curious why 'we are one' is superior to 'this person has similar thoughts, feelings and needs to me and I want to respect the feelings and needs of that person because they are as valuable as me'.

I don't know if it's 'superior'. It's shorter, which some may see as a feature, and I like it which is the ultimate criteria.
posted by mikelieman at 8:52 AM on May 6


And with the state of current politics, suggesting that someone pray in private instead of in front of a public forum of people who don't necessarily share their beliefs would likely interpreted as cruel repression of their right to exercise their God- and Constitutional-guaranteed religious freedom.

Then I propose the Public Prayer Free-For-All, in which every person present is welcome to offer up the loudest public prayer he or she feels compelled to perform. Personally, I'll be bringing my trumpet, psaltery, harp, timbrel, dancing shoes, stringed instruments, organs, and both loud and high-sounding cymbals. No point doing things by halves as long as we're just having a pleasant, quaint tradition that everybody really likes whether they're willing to admit it or not.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:03 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


It is not required to swear on the bible. Another option exists, called "affirming", which is frequently used by atheists, agnostics and people who object to swearing oaths to God, such as Quakers.


Definitely. Though the choice isn't always explicitly offered, and it can be difficult to ask in some circumstances.
posted by asperity at 9:42 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


The Underpants Monster, I was thinking that earlier too. Why make people take turns for prayer? Just have them all do it at the same time! 10 minutes *before* the meeting starts, in the hallway, preferably.
posted by rebent at 10:09 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


I don't know if it's 'superior'. It's shorter, which some may see as a feature, and I like it which is the ultimate criteria.

Sure. But if they are of roughly equivalent value what does spirituality add?
posted by jaduncan at 12:07 PM on May 6


Sure. But if they are of roughly equivalent value what does spirituality add?

I'm not sure that the metric I use for 'spirituality' applies in any other context, so quantifying it in terms we can agree on might be problematical. I guess the take-away is "mileage varies"?
posted by mikelieman at 1:21 PM on May 6


Spirituality isn't a part of consensus reality, so really shouldn't have anything to do with government.

If you have a personal spiritual practice that makes you more effective at whatever you do, then great. But you can fuck right off if you try to use personal spiritual experiences to justify actions that impact other people, particularly if those actions are backed by the force of law and violence of the state.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:56 AM on May 7


What if they're backed by brownies and milk?
posted by mikelieman at 12:48 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


On the subject of who gets to pray how in the public square or in government spaces, someone I know on FB posted this video from a couple of years ago showing (Christian) protestors disrupting an invocation by a Hindu priest in the US Senate. Apparently that was the first time a Hindu invocation had been offered in the Senate.

It's a solid recent example of how some religions are more equal than others in terms of actual treatment in the United States, and how some Christians (not all) object when other religions are treated equally as the Constitution mandates.
posted by immlass at 12:57 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Christian Prayers For A Christian Nation: In The Wake Of The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Municipal Prayers, Some Say No To Non-Christians
The message sent will be simple. Before the city council or county commission gets down to the business of fixing the potholes or dealing with zoning issues, there will be a prayer that makes it clear that there are two types of citizens in town: Those who agree with the prayer are the local government’s special favorites and its best citizens. Those who don’t agree are tolerated because the law says they must be, but really, they’re second-class citizens who are kind of strange. They don’t do things “our way.”

And while Justice Anthony Kennedy says you can leave the room if you don’t like the prayer, in the real world anyone with even a lick of sense is going to think twice about walking out on the prayer 15 minutes before requesting better lighting on the neighborhood streets.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:40 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]




Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't every Christian prayer about the conversion of Jews and how wonderful throwing away the Abrahamaic Covenant and adopting the polytheistic idolatry of worshipping images of Jesus?

"this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood"
posted by mikelieman at 1:33 AM on May 8


Katherine Stewart: A Big Win for the Prayer Lobby
To understand why the case’s backers were so cock-a-hoop, you must first know something about the long game being played by the religious right. The goal is to get back to a “soft” establishment of religion in America — that is, a system in which formal guarantees of religious freedom and the official separation of church and state remain in place, but one religion is informally or implicitly acknowledged as the “approved” religion of the majority and a legitimate basis for public policy.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:58 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


The goal is to get back to a “soft” establishment of religion in America — that is, a system in which formal guarantees of religious freedom and the official separation of church and state remain in place, but one religion is informally or implicitly acknowledged as the “approved” religion of the majority and a legitimate basis for public policy.
My formative years were spent in a time and place when strict separation of church and state in the U.S. was never questioned, and since it was pre-Internet, we were never exposed to anyone for whom it was different. So, the past decade or so has been pretty mind-blowing for me, learning that there are people in my own country who've been raised to see it so fundamentally differently.

Anyway, isn't argumentum ad antiquitatem a recognized logical fallacy?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:43 AM on May 8


Anyway, isn't argumentum ad antiquitatem a recognized logical fallacy?

In general yes, but when you get into interpretations of the Constitution "this is what the authors of the Constitution thought was acceptable" becomes a more convincing argument, especially to the originalists who consider it their duty to enforce the exact thoughts that rich white landowning males had in 1787.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:49 AM on May 8


Professor Marci Hamilton: The Solid Majorities in the Town of Greece v. Galloway Decision
Frankly, I miss Justice O’Connor’s voice on these issues. She was pointing to a new way of thinking about these issues in the context of our burgeoning awareness of radical diversity. Her invocation of the “non-endorsement” test was intended to lead one to think about the other person—government endorsement was a constitutional evil, because it meant the government was choosing one believer over another. That seems to me the better approach to diversity than any of the other options on the table.

That other-awareness is a definite step in the right direction, and takes us away from the destructive narcissism this era has inculcated. But it is decidedly not the approach chosen by any member of the Court today. Thus, we await a visionary on the Court who can lead the Court’s thinking toward a First Amendment that fosters the flourishing of diversity while taming the demands for hegemony.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:45 AM on May 8


-Anyway, isn't argumentum ad antiquitatem a recognized logical fallacy?

--In general yes, but when you get into interpretations of the Constitution "this is what the authors of the Constitution thought was acceptable" becomes a more convincing argument, especially to the originalists who consider it their duty to enforce the exact thoughts that rich white landowning males had in 1787.


I'm no legal scholar, but I personally see a difference between practiced tradition and the framers' intent. For the former, I look to things like the 1811 New York court blasphemy decision Stewart mentions in her article, and for the latter, I look more toward Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists (Yes, I know Jefferson didn't write the Constitution, but he was part of that circle and was present during that time, and so was in a much better position to know what the intent of the Establishment Clause was than the 1811 NY court or anyone currently on the SCOTUS.)

My understanding and usage of argumentum ad antiquitatem (which I readily admit could be flawed as it applies to law) was that it applied more to practiced tradition around the application of the Clasue than to the intent behind the writing of it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:58 AM on May 8




I want my government to be spiritual, but not religious.

I failed to get across that I was mocking the idea of the inoffensive prayer (I think "I'm spiritual, not religious", which a lot of people will tell you, is a pretty content free thing to say)
posted by thelonius at 6:52 PM on May 10


I think "I'm spiritual, not religious", which a lot of people will tell you, is a pretty content free thing to say
If you subscribe to a religious set of spiritual dogma, then sure "spiritual, not religious" sounds content free precisely because that formulation omits the dogma. But if you take a step back, it should be clear that this whole "spiritual" thing is not something that everyone agrees exists. And among those who do believe that there actually is a spiritual dimension to reality, many of them believe that only a tiny elite have access to that spiritual dimension.

So asking for a "spiritual, not religious" government is far from content free - it is a request for something that some people believe is not even real, and other people believe is only available to a select few elites. (of course, other people believe that everyone has a spiritual dimension, but that just makes the desire for a "spiritual" government a tautology, so we can safely ignore them)

That said, I'm all for people studying and exploring things that seem to be "spiritual," I just don't want any of that stuff in my government.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:37 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


Americans United To Launch "Operation Inclusion" After SCOTUS Prayer Decision
"Some people are getting the idea that the Greece decision creates a Wild West of government-sponsored prayer," AU's Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan said in a statement. "That's not the case. There are still rules, and we intend to make certain they are followed."
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:17 AM on May 12


exogenous: "Prompted by Supreme Court Ruling, Florida Satanist Wants to Open Meeting with Prayer"
"He said he converted to Satanism because 'Satan is a cool dude. Think of all the people he's in charge of. Do you want to be stuck listening to harp music in the afterlife? Hell no. I want to drink beer and hang with hookers.'"
Heh.
posted by zarq at 9:15 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Central Florida Freethought Community
Below you will find a selection of secular invocations/reflections offered in the past along with links to videos where available. We will add to this list as soon as we are aware of others we have missed and those which we offer to our own local government meetings....

We maintain that religious prayer has no place at local government meetings where the public attend and participate, however, in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, we have decided the best possible action we can take, for now, is to ensure the decision is fully enforced. This includes providing opportunities for ALL faith traditions and non-believers seeking the opportunity to participate and ensuring that no pattern of prayer exists which denigrates, proselytizes, or advances any one, or to disparage any other.
posted by audi alteram partem at 3:08 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]




Translation: Please continue to sue us because we don't have anything better to do with county funds except spend them on stupid and unnecessary lawsuits.

Officials defended that decision, saying the “neo-pagan” faith does not fall within the Judeo-Christian tradition and “invokes polytheistic, pre-Christian deities.”

Because the only "real" religions are Judeo-Christian ones?
posted by rtha at 11:25 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Officials defended that decision, saying the “neo-pagan” faith does not fall within the Judeo-Christian tradition and “invokes polytheistic, pre-Christian deities.”

Again, with the idiots citing a 'Judeo-Christian tradition'. Only in their minds does the "New Covenant" not mean anything.
posted by mikelieman at 4:55 PM on May 25


« Older How to communicate like Jack Bauer.   |   Do Pirates Really Go Down with the Ship? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post