They should see how it feels

They need to know how it feels.

The Supremes, in a 5 to 4 decision, today opened the door to the unbridled conduct of religious prayer at government sponsored gatherings.

Five black-robed Christians, voicing their opinion through Justice Kennedy, said that the prayers offered at a Greece, New York town meeting were “merely ceremonial.”  Without any real meaning or importance, I suppose.  Sort of like the Pledge of Allegiance.  Or maybe the credits at the beginning of a movie. No big deal.

“Ceremonial prayer,” Kennedy 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.”  So it seems, according to the Justice, that people should be free to ignore the rule of law, and piss on their neighbors, if it offends their religious beliefs.  The Ayatollah is surely smiling.

The Greece, NY town officials took pains to note that they had tried, with little success, to find non-Christians, including atheists, to do the opening prayers. Obviously those officials haven’t a clue as to what an atheist is.  So rather than mothballing the religious invocations due to a paucity of Muslim, Hindu or Jewish religious leaders, they continued their usual practice unabated and with a distinctly Christian aura.

The two citizens who brought the suit against the town said, according to the Justice, that they felt excluded and offended.  Rising to his full height, Kennedy told them to suck it up and added “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable.”  Not in his court, I bet.

The Justice is also much too busy to spend any significant time deliberating over what is religiously offensive or what is merely ceremonial.  He whined “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…”  So let’s just pretend that the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t apply when government bodies pray.  There. Done. Next case.

I was reminded of the time that I took a business trip to Chicago where a next day meeting was scheduled at 9am on the Southside’s 71st and State streets.  Seriously misjudging my travel time from Chicago’s North Side (mostly white) to the South Side (nearly all black), I arrived at my destination an hour early.  Seeking a calming cup of coffee, I stumbled into the only restaurant open at that hour, a McDonald’s, and was greeted by a sea of black faces, all staring at me like I had just dropped into their midst from an alien ship.  I felt a heightened sense of exclusion but I also got some idea of what those people probably felt when the roles were reversed.

I’m certain that a number of the Justices must have thought “Well, if you don’t want to take part in the religious invocation, just leave the room and rejoin the party when we finish.  No harm, no foul.”  Sure.  I can just visualize the poor sap returning from the hallway and displaying himself as a blatant non-believer to those by whom he must be judged or with whom he must transact business.

As a Jew I feel highly offended by today’s decision.  But our long history of offenses is much too involved to cover in this miserable blog.  Nor can I begin to delve into the long list of offenses perpetrated by the religious majorities in other lands on religious minorities that did not share their point of view.

Today’s ruling diminishes, rather than enlarges, the concept of religious freedom because it restricts the right of the minority to be free of discrimination in a public setting.  Which is probably why the founding fathers decided to feature freedom of and freedom from religion in the First Amendment.  So my advice to the five black-robed Justices is to spend more time in the company of those who are different from themselves.  And see how it feels.

4 Responses to “They should see how it feels”

  1. 1 Nancy May 5, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    I think the result would have been different if there was, say, a majority Muslim small town USA that could only find Imam’s to lead the opening prayer. Sadly, there are many people who think that “Christianity” is synonymous with “religion,” like “kleenex” with “facial tissue” and can’t understand who could object to prayers with Jesus in them. Isn’t that the default? Of course that leaves aside the entire issue of why there are any prayers in the first place at public meetings. As an attendee of many council and other meetings in my relatively small (for LA) town of 23,000, I frankly have issues with the “under god” part of the pledge of allegiance which starts each meeting. It’s a slippery slope . . . .


  2. 2 Sally May 5, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Exactly. Fred and Nancy have the kind of empathy that is sorely lacking among the five justices. As for The Pledge, it’s been changed once, when I was in kindergarten, to include ‘under God,’ so I don’t feel bad when I change it again when called upon to recite it at civic events. I go with the indisputable, “one nation, under Canada…”


  3. 3 Harry(Judy) Levin May 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    In the name of the Father, son and Holy Ghost -God Bless


  4. 4 Leila May 9, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Thank you Fred. Actually I find myself uncomfortable with the last few decisions the “high” court has issued.


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