In a 5-4 ruling today, the Supreme Court all but blew a hole in the remaining barriers between religion and local government as the conservative justices and Justice Kennedy agreed that having a "Chaplain of the Month" giving invocations at open council meetings did not violate the First Amendment.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that divided the court’s more conservative members from its liberal ones, said the prayers were merely ceremonial. They were neither unduly sectarian nor likely to make members of other faiths feel unwelcome.
“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.”
In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government.”
Town officials in Greece, N.Y., near Rochester, said that members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer. In practice, however, almost all of the chaplains were Christian. Some of their prayers were explicitly sectarian, with references, for instance, to “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.”
But that didn't matter, as five justices found that expression of religion is not only protected under the First Amendment's religion clause, but doubly so as it is protected, free speech. So is there anything that can actually violate the notion that the government cannot officially sanction a state religion? Kennedy replied a very narrow window for that:
Justice Kennedy did suggest that some prayers may be unacceptable if offered consistently over time, including ones that “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation or preach conversion.”
Justices Thomas and Scalia went even further, suggesting that only outright threats of civil reprisals based on belief or non-belief would constitute a violation.
You might then be excused for thinking that conservative jurists seem to believe that we already have a state-sanctioned religion in WASP Christianity.
In comments earlier this year only now coming to light, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court asserted that the First Amendment only applies to Christianity since neither Buddha nor Mohammed created man.
"Everybody, to include the United States Supreme Court, has been deceived as to one little word in the First Amendment called religion. They can’t define it," chief justice Roy Moore said in January, according to video published Friday by Raw Story.
“Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures. They didn’t bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship,” he continued. “Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”
But Christianity is under threat in America, right?