Separation of Church and State — Town of Greece v Galloway

The First Amendment returns to the spotlight as the prayer issue rears up again. Is that acceptable expression protected by the First Amendment? Or prohibited by the same amendment?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Regarding religion and government, two ideas are clear:

  1. Congress shall make no law establishing religion (i.e. national church).
  2. Nor prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Tension exists between those two ideas. Can government both prevent establishment of national religion while protecting God-given right to free expression?

In the recent case concerning prayer before meetings in Town of Greece v. Galloway, SCOTUS wrote:

Since 1999, the monthly town board meetings in Greece, New York, have opened with a roll call, a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer … Respondents, citizens who attend meetings to speak on local issues, filed suit, alleging that the town violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause … The District Court upheld the prayer practice on summary judgment, finding no impermissible preference for Christianity … The Second Circuit reversed …

SCOTUS reversed the reversal of the Second Circuit, permitting the prayers. Naturally, some people are upset; a few lawyers who participated in the case complained:

The court’s decision, though, invites continued litigation: Nondiscrimination, coercion, and the question of mandatory attendance and penalties will continue to cause disputes …

There were alternatives to this troubling opinion: The court might have taken a strong position and declared that there should be no “official” legislative chaplains and no official governmental prayer

The first paragraph displays a stunning misunderstanding of SCOTUS decisions, by complaining the decision leads to further lawsuits. Yes, it probably will, but that’s the way SCOTUS decisions usually work.

  • Did the ruling on abortion eliminate further lawsuits?
  • When SCOTUS held the second amendment clearly states an individual right to bear arms, did lawsuits over the issue stop?

No, to both questions.

  • On abortion, what constituents an “undue burden”?
  • On arms, what are permitted? Can government restrict who may carry what?

Obviously SCOTUS didn’t define those issues, and when parties can’t agree, lawsuits begin.

That’s the way SCOTUS decisions usually work. That may not be a good thing, but you can’t logically argue against this decision unless you also argue the court was wrong to permit abortion.

The second complaint—that the court didn’t declare official chaplains can’t exist—equally exhibits stunning ignorance of history and common sense. But then, lawyers concern themselves with law, not common sense.

Step back in Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine. Back to the times of the Founders, Jefferson, and Madison.

Jefferson and Madison attended church services in the House of Representatives; using Capital buildings for church services continued until after the Civil War.

Many think Jefferson anti-religious, citing the (in)famous “wall of separation” phrase. But as the Library of Congress notes, Jefferson didn’t mean religious displays were impermissible, as his actions clearly don’t back up what proponents of the wall think it means.

Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. Madison followed Jefferson’s example … Worship services in the House—a practice that continued until after the Civil War—were acceptable to Jefferson …

Jefferson’s actions may seem surprising because his attitude toward the relation between religion and government is usually thought to have been embodied in his recommendation that there exist “a wall of separation between church and state.” In that statement, Jefferson was apparently declaring his opposition, as Madison had done in introducing the Bill of Rights, to a “national” religion. In attending church services on public property, Jefferson and Madison consciously and deliberately were offering symbolic support to religion as a prop for republican government.

Obviously, neither Madison nor Jefferson had a problem with (gasp!) using government buildings for religious purposes.

Later, the House itself resolved sessions to be opened with prayer, see the Journal: 1st-13th Congress. Repr. 14th Congress, 1st Session - 50th Congress, 2nd Session, page 354

Whereas, the people of these United States, from their earliest history to the present time, have been led by the hand of a kind Providence and are indebted for the countless blessings of the past and present, and dependent for continued prosperity in the future upon Almighty God; and whereas the great vital and conservative element in our system is the belief of our people in the pure doctrines and divine truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it eminently becomes the representatives of a people so highly favored, to acknowledge, in the most public manner, their reverence for God: Therefore, Resolved, first, That the daily sessions of this body be opened with prayer. Resolved, second, and that the ministers of the Gospel in this city are hereby requested to attend and alternately perform this solemn duty.

Be honest — after all the anti-religious hysteria involving church and state, would you believe such a resolution could exist?

The debate over a Christian nation is settled — it’s a matter of record.

People may want to change the future of the country, but the past remains stubbornly clear.

… many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation. (SCOTUS in CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY V. UNITED STATES, 143 US 457, 1892)

Militant atheists attempt to re-write history, but only look foolish in the process.

Lawyers and common sense don’t always go together, but consider the text of the First amendment and ask yourself if opening a meeting with prayer makes a law establishing a national religion.

It clearly doesn’t, thus is not against the First Amendment.

For those arguing otherwise, please cite the bill and law number supposedly created. If they can’t, it’s not a law, thus acceptable by a common sense plain reading of the Bill of Rights.

Opening government meetings with prayer has been a foundation of the United States. People may not like it, but history shows it, and the Founders by their actions clearly agreed.

SCOTUS only upheld what has occurred in this country since its founding, agreeing with the Founders actions.

To do otherwise would be judicial activism.

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