[This is a guest post by Ricard E. Wackrow, Administrator of the Flathead Area Secular Humanist Assocation.]
Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision endorsing opening prayers at public meetings is the latest nail to be pried from the wall separating church and state.
The Roberts Court ruled that prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity (Town of Greece v. Galloway), thus overturning a 2012 federal appeals court ruling to the contrary.
Writing the dissenting opinion for the Court’s four liberal justices, Justice Elena Kagan said the case differs from a 1983 Court decision upholding opening prayers because in that case the invocations did not involve public participation. The issue in Greece v. Galloway, on the other hand, was that predominantly Christian invocations are given directly to, and involve participation by, citizens.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the five conservative justices, said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation’s traditions. Some of these traditions are:
If you’re a Jew, Hindu or any other Non-Christian, you are well-advised to participate — or pretend to participate — in the Christian prayer to avoid being treated as an outsider or troublemaker by the political body involved, or by your fellow citizens who are Christians.
If you are not religious, you must pretend to be so in order to be elected to public office. Americans vote for political candidates based on their religious beliefs, not on their records or the policies they propose. They mistake open expressions of faith for honesty, integrity, morality and noble intentions. And they won’t vote for atheists regardless of their qualifications.
Christianist political bodies and electorates discourage public participation by non-Christians who might otherwise make valuable contributions to their communities.
In a nation that is more religiously diverse than when the Bill of Rights was written in the 18th century, it is important to note that the Court’s decision will exclude or deter an ever-growing segment of our society from participating in the political process.
Given the current leaning of our Supreme Court, the only practical difference between the United States and theocracies such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nepal or Tibet might well boil down to which holidays we celebrate.
Richard E. Wackrow, Administrator
Flathead Area Secular Humanist Association
Whitefish & Polebridge