I want to follow up on Eric Muller’s short complaint yesterday about the Town of Greece case. I, too, feel that, for the first time in my life as an U.S. citizen, the doors of government are closing on me because of my religion.
To be fair, the case is not affecting me in a vacuum. The recent attacks and murders in Kansas City where people were killed allegedly because the assailant perceived them to be Jewish has an impact. The recent flyers notifying Jews in Eastern Ukraine that they were required to register with their town merely because they were Jews has an impact. The fact that a family member’s synagogue needs an armed police guard for Saturday services has an impact. The fact that, in my state, being a member of the Anti-Defamation League serves to disqualify you from service on the bench has an impact. But so too does a case that tells me that history is the best judge of the boundaries of the Establishment Clause. “[I]t is not necessary to define the precise boundary of the Establishment Clause where history shows that the specific practice is permitted.” Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, No. 12–696, slip op. at 8 (Sup. Ct. 2014). Let’s look at this history: the Crusades; Inquisition; hundreds of years of European wars over religion; pogroms throughout Russia and Eastern Europe both before and after World War II; religiously-based conflicts in India, Yugoslavia, Sudan, Israel/Palestine, Armenia, and numerous other countries around the world too numerous to list; and, of course, the Holocaust.
For at least the last 1,000 years, we have been killing each other because of religion. The great hope for the U.S. constitutional democracy was that, by removing government from the religion game, we could put this history behind us. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has started a process of disenfranchising U.S. citizens based on religion. To attend a government meeting in Greece, New York — and soon in many other towns throughout the U.S. — one must first now accept a call to prayer that will serve to define the majority’s view of proper religious behavior. With no Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu houses of worship in Greece, New York — and in many other towns throughout the U.S. — the prayers will be Christian.
The Court’s majority seem to think that sectarian prayer will improve the process of government. “Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing, serves that legitimate function.” Id. at 14. How does one religion’s prayer trigger “shared ideals?” Why would a minority member feel that a “common end” will be easier to achieve now that someone else’s religion (or for the atheist, religion itself) has been proclaimed as dominant? No, the opposite occurs. The minority is being instructed — “You are only here because we tolerate you, but don’t, not even for a minute, believe that you are a member of the community.”