published Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

High court missed the point: Putting religion in its place means embracing all faiths and no faith

The U.S. Supreme Court missed a tremendous opportunity when its majority this week ignored our nation's history as well as the framework our founders wrote into the U.S. Constitution.

It's true enough that sorting out the freedoms of religion and speech is often tricky. But that's the point. And it's exactly the opportunity our highest court missed Monday in ruling that the town of Greece, N.Y., and other local governments can legally start their meetings with prayers from just one religious sect.

What the court missed was the chance to move us toward a fuller understand that both our diversity and our inclusiveness still make us free today, just as these virtues did centuries ago when religious intolerance sparked the American Revolution.

Our early leaders, with clear and burning memories of the religious intolerance that prompted immigrants and refugees to flock to the colonies from the British Isles, Germany and across the globe, created the First Amendment with two components relating to religion.

The so-called "free exercise" clause gives citizens freedom of religious expression and belief, while the "establishment" clause warns that such expression is meant to be private and cannot be endorsed or promoted by the government.

The First Amendment also contains the "free speech" clause, giving us the freedom of private expression on general topics.

In framing the amendments, our founders sought to ensure against religious persecution and intolerance, while at the same time keeping government at arm's length: "Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise" of religion or free speech.

In other words, government can't prescribe religious beliefs, but must protect them when spoken under both the free religious speech and free speech clauses.

That language prohibiting religious endorsement or promotion is exactly what the Supreme Court's majority on Monday ignored when five of nine justices chose instead to hide behind decades of American tradition. But those traditions were built when communities were smaller and tended to be more insular.

Now those decades of tradition are sliding up against a more dense America that is more mobile and cosmopolitan. It's somewhat understandable that more than two centuries after the Constitution built a wall separating church and state, we're having trouble being different even while we still stand together under a community's dome of government and, presumably, united good will.

Remember, globally religion is still the single most divisive factor in wars and atrocities.

Banning prayer was never the issue. In fact, a ban would seem similarly flawed. Just as public prayer from primarily one religion, in effect, stands as a government endorsement of that belief, so might a ban seem to be an endorsement of disbelief.

Justice Elena Kagan's persuasive dissent got to the heart of the matter: A town hall meeting in Greece, N.Y. [or here in Hamilton County, Tenn., where a similar lawsuit is smoldering], "need not become a religion-free zone," she wrote. But the practice must meet tradition and the prayers must "seek to include, rather than serve to divide."

She suggested government officials take steps to ensure "that opening prayers are inclusive of different faiths, rather than always identified with a single religion."

What a concept. Prayer to reinforce the reality that citizens of all faiths and no faiths are equal participants in government.

Instead, the high court's majority ruling shirked the chance to both reinforce "freedom for all" and the guarantee of government's religious neutrality.

The court's decision, however, doesn't preclude city councils, county commissions, school boards and other local governmental bodies from taking the higher road.

Our local leaders should -- now more than ever -- make a concerted effort to make moments of public prayer inclusive of all faiths, and yet hospitable to those with no religious faith.

Pull us together, don't hold us apart.

15
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conservative said...

This Liberal is not only wrong, she is deliberately wrong.

May 7, 2014 at 7:27 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Coming from a liar, that's rich.

May 7, 2014 at 8:07 a.m.
librul said...

All Hail Conservative! The great uniter!

May 7, 2014 at 8:08 a.m.
conservative said...

"The U.S. Supreme Court missed a tremendous opportunity when its majority this week ignored our nation's history as well as the framework our founders wrote into the U.S. Constitution."

Baloney!

Prayer has never been in violation of our Constitution.

CONGRESS opens sessions with prayer.

CONGRESS does not establish a religion when it opens with prayer.

CONGRESS is prohibited from establishing a religion.

The First Amendment begins:

CONGRESS shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...

LIBERALS lie when they say otherwise.

May 7, 2014 at 8:24 a.m.
conservative said...

"The so-called "free exercise" clause gives citizens freedom of religious expression and belief, while the "establishment" clause warns that such expression is meant to be private and cannot be endorsed or promoted by the government"

Double baloney!

Religious expression is not free if government dictates that it has to be in private.

The establishment clause warns no such thing. The establishment clause prohibits CONGRESS and only CONGRESS from establishing a national religion.

Well, prayer has always been allowed before government gatherings (no thanks to Ms. Sohn and like minded Liberals) so it could be said that it is promoted.

I was wrong, I found triple baloney.

May 7, 2014 at 9:58 a.m.
conservative said...

little quiz on the First Amendment.

Which elected body is prohibited from establishing a national religion? ___

A. Congress

B. Congress

C. Congress

D. I am a Liberal, I still don't get it.

May 7, 2014 at 10:02 a.m.

And a imaginary god still doesn't answer prayers, Mr. Conservative is still crazy, and Jesus doesn't save (except at Sunday dinner when He brings His church bulletin to the Sit and Slop Country Buffet for 10% off).

May 7, 2014 at 3:23 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Face the Facts Godless Liberals,

The United State of America is founded on Christianity, and in God We Trust. Christians should not keep their faith shield to appease others.

May 8, 2014 at midnight
librul said...

An oft repeated LIE ... here told by a typically under-educated but fervent believer sowing the seeds of theocracy which, together with its minions of greed and corruption are eating holes in the foundation of mankind's modern experiment in democracy leading to its demise and its new paradigm:

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/05/06/gangster-state-america-paul-craig-roberts-2/

May 8, 2014 at 7:10 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

So, aae: the Jews in my family aren't citizens? Are they allowed to run for office? Are they required to sign a statement of faith? If they become the majority (laughable, there are only 14 million world wide) can they make the US a Jewish nation? How about Muslims? Now there's a group that is growing fast. When they are in the majority, do they impose Islam? Even Hispanics. If they are in charge, does our president answer to the Pope?

May 8, 2014 at 7:22 a.m.
Easy123 said...

The United States is not founded on Christianity. "In God We Trust" wasn't put on paper currency until 1957. The phrase wasn't named the national motto until 1956.

The Constitution, as it is written, was created to form a secular union where any one, regardless of religion, could feel welcome.

Face it, you Bible-thumping, mouth-breathing, ignoramuses, the United States is moving on without you. In 30-40 years, when most of your kind has died out in this country, it will be a significantly better place. All you're good (bad) for is bigotry, ignorance and a whole heaping pile of BS.

May 8, 2014 at 8:18 a.m.

aae1049 said...

Face the Facts Godless Liberals,

"The United State of America is founded on Christianity, and in God We Trust. Christians should not keep their faith shield to appease others."

Tea Party Bible-Thumpers have never let science, history, or facts get in the way of their fundamentalist views. Just like Muslim fanatics.

April, do you have specific burkas for each day of the week, or does your husband tell you which one to wear? I know you practice submission to your husband as the dutiful Christian you are.

May 8, 2014 at 12:12 p.m.
GaussianInteger said...

April, a self-proclaimed Patriot, knows very little with regards to the history of the US.

May 8, 2014 at 1:18 p.m.
TheCommander said...

Ike said - "So, aae: the Jews in my family aren't citizens? Are they allowed to run for office?"

In this oppressive Christian Theocracy we have here in America, the Jews have it very rough, don't they Ike? Let me ask you: What nation(s) is it better for the Jew than in America today? Atheist Russia? Moslem Iran? How about the Ukraine? Would you counsel them to all go back to Europe?

Let's face it: On America's worst day, it is better for a Jew, Black, Hispanic, White, oriental, etc... here than ANY other nation on earth period. Do you deny that?

May 12, 2014 at 8:27 p.m.
ronsooline said...

The First Amendment is a model of simplicity: ”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.” It refers, of course, to the Federal government.

In her fifth paragraph the editor would have us believe that our pursuit of our religion is to be completely private. A cursory reading of the amendment shows that view to be a stretch.

In the United States, we have Federal, State, and Local governments. Each has its own sphere of influence. All powers not lawfully contained within the Constitution are reserved to “the People” by the Tenth Amendment. This means, in short, that if “we the people” do not want our local government meetings to be opened with prayer, we can petition them to not do so.

May 20, 2014 at 10:16 a.m.
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