The Supreme Court ruled on Monday to allow an opening prayer at town hall meetings in Greece, NY sparking fresh debate on the separation of church and state. In a surprise split, 5-4, justices ruled that the prayer, offered by a selected “chaplain of the month”, did not violate the constitutional rights of those in attendance at such meetings, according to the New York Times.
Justice Elana Kagan led the charge against allowing prayer during town meetings saying that the act just doesn’t mesh “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government.” She was defending two town residents that sued claiming that they felt excluded and disrespected when the prayers were said.
The problem according to Justin Kagan, who was joined in her opinion by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, is that the prayers were almost always Christian in nature, despite the claims from the defendants that all faiths had an equal opportunity to seek representation in offering the opening prayer.
“So month in and month out for over a decade,” she wrote, “prayers steeped in only one faith, addressed toward members of the public, commenced meetings to discuss local affairs and distribute government benefits.”
According to those who opposed said that there was an especially problematic regular practice of including Christian themes such as thanking God for His Son’s death on the cross, as well as alleged attempted conversion and mini-sermons being included. She says they may try to seek other faiths to hold the “chaplain of the month” position, but not hard enough.
She claims that the prayers “put some residents to the unenviable choice of either pretending to pray like the majority or declining to join its communal activity, at the very moment of petitioning their elected leaders.”
Judge Anthony M. Kennedy believes that the prayers are purely ceremonial and not meant in any way to offend those not of like faith.
“Ceremonial prayer,” he wrote, “is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.”
He added, “To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing or approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact.”
As far as those who may be offended due to overtly Christian references, he states a simple point. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable.”
Good points from both sides of this hot button issue. What is your stance?
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