Supreme Court Weakens Church-State Separation   Leave a comment

Somewhere Thomas Jefferson is weeping over the High Court’s opinion today in regards to the constitutional doctrine of separation of church & state; quoting ScotusBlog’s analysis of today’s decision (Town of Greece v. Galloway):

Stopping just short of abandoning a historic barrier to religion in government activity, a deeply divided Supreme Court ruled on Monday that local governments may open their meetings with prayers that are explicitly religious and may turn out to be largely confined to expressing the beliefs of one faith.

Narrowly defining what is not allowed in such prayers, the Court said they may not be used to praise the virtues of one faith and may not cast other faiths or other believers in a sharply negative light.  Courts have no role in judging whether individual prayers satisfy that test, but can only examine a “pattern of prayer” to see whether it crossed the forbidden constitutional line and became a form of “coercion.”(ScotusBlog)

Now, at first glance, this would seem to keep the aforementioned wall of separation btwn. church and state up, but there’s a huge wall that they’ve knocked into that wall and it is that now courts must look and determine whether there has been a ‘pattern of prayer’ that has been coercive in nature; no longer can courts simply block such prayers on an individual basis. Even though the Court was divided on this, it was only on that point…

Three Justices said that test is satisfied if a town’s governing body ordered the public to join in prayer, criticized “dissidents” who did not share the prayer’s beliefs, or indicated that official action would be or was influenced by whether someone did or did not take part in the prayer exercise.  That group spoke through the lead opinion, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — long an advocate of the “coercion” approach and long a critic of the “endorsement” test.  His plurality opinion was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.(ScotusBlog)

Surprisingly, even this wasn’t enough for Justices’ Alito and Thomas, who wanted to go even further and gut the entire wall itself by arguing that the ‘coercion’ test could only be satisfied if government were to force people to adhere to a specific faith. Put simply, don’t be surprised if local governments start exploiting this to push sectarian prayers into more and more areas or American life.


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