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Supreme Court Ruling on Public Prayer Re-enforces Christian Supremacy

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Cross-posted from TikkunDaily
By Warren J. Blumenfeld

American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.

Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”

While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, "The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents."  

Going even further, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia wrote that even any "subtle pressure" that local citizens might feel would not be enough to ban such prayers. This ruling follows the precedent-setting case thirty years ago in Marsh v. Chambers, upholding Nebraska legislature's funding of a chaplain who delivered daily prayers.

The court’s majority (Scalia) Law further codifies de facto practices into de jure policies.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing the minority opinion, asserted: "When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines." She argued assertively that: “No one can fairly read the prayers from Greece's town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian – constantly and exclusively so. The prayers betray no understanding that the American community is today, as it long has been, a rich mosaic of religious faiths."

By expressing the majority view asserting tradition as justification, Kennedy steps in the grease tracking and smearing it across the legislative landscape. The high court’s decision is less about protecting religious freedom as it is about maintaining and expanding Christian supremacy and the furtherance of Christian privilege. In reality, the First Amendment’s “non-establishment” of religion clause applies to all faiths except Christian denominations, even though Kennedy asserted that these (Christian) prayers were “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the nation’s heritage, that are long-established by Congress and state legislatures.

Though I am disappointed, I am not surprised by the court’s (re)inscription of a Christian religious imposition and imperative in the public square by maintaining a long-standing tradition.

I often hear criticism against nations founded upon an “official” religion, denomination, or sect like England, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, India, and many others across the globe, and how these countries restrict religious freedom to those who fall outside the mainstream religiously. I argue, nonetheless, that we must include the United States on this list.