Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Greece: It's the Word

While this is off the topic of legal education, I wanted to weigh in on the Supreme Court's decision in Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, No. 12–696, slip op. at 8 (Sup. Ct. 2014).

As a southerner, and a member of a minority religion, I am used to prayer in public governmental  settings. People have asked me if I am offended when a person offering the prayer or invocation prays in Jesus's name, and I am not. What bothers me is when a person in a public setting says "we pray this..."  The "we" is the word that I find problematic, and the "we" is what the Supreme Court failed to understand. 

At our law school graduation this coming Saturday I would never presume to speak for everyone, or even anyone else in that audience on a political issue. Why do people offering a prayer assume that they know how everyone else in a public gathering prays? Prayer is very personal, and some people exercise their First Amendment rights by choosing not to pray, at all.

While I am not a fan of prayer at public gatherings, I am happy to tolerate it (and the Supreme Court has said I must accept it) if the person praying would simply say "I pray this..." I would fully support that person's right to express their beliefs in public.  I do not grant them the right, or authority, to pray for me, and neither should the Supreme Court.

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I’m not a Mason, but I’ve read that they have a very sensible rule that when praying out loud in the company of other members one should attempt, insofar as possible, to tailor one’s prayer to be acceptable to all faiths. Thus a Christian should not end his prayer “in Jesus’s name” while in the company of Jews, for example. Certainly there is no Biblical obligation to do so. Justice Kagan addresses this concept in her dissent to some degree.

I understand your objection to the use of the word “We” if a prayer is asking God to bring about a victory for one football team or political party, but usually the word “We” or “Us” in such prayers is a request for guidance, protection, etc. I suppose someone using “We” in such a prayer could end it by asking God to mislead and harm anyone not wishing to be guided and protected, but that seems a bit silly to me.

What I find objectionable about Kagan’s dissent is the notion that it’s not enough to have a variety of local clergy deliver the prayers. Rather, a community such as Greece, which apparently has no mosques, synagogues, or other non-Christian organizations, must go out and bus in clergy from other cities in order to provide diversity. Bringing in a Rabbi who serves not one single member of the community every few months isn’t going to make the citizens who brought the suit any less irritated the remaining nine-tenths of the time when the prayer is going on about the blood of Christ and such.

I think it’s basic good manners to try to have prayers that virtually everyone in the room can agree with. But I don’t think the federal government should force people to have good manners. And for those few citizens of Greece who aren’t happy, I suggest they form their own house of worship, hire a preacher and put his name in the prayer pot, and then instruct him on exactly what to say when it’s his turn.

Posted by: ColRebSez | May 8, 2014 7:53:15 AM

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