I Say a Little Prayer for You

Alabama:

Speaking at the Pastor for Life Luncheon, which was sponsored by Pro-Life Mississippi, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court declared that the First Amendment only applies to Christians because “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures” who created us.

“They didn’t bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship,” he remarked January 17 at the event in Jackson, Mississippi. “Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”

He then noted that he loves talking to lawyers, because he is a lawyer who went to “a secular law school,” so he knows that “in the law, [talking about God] just isn’t politically correct.” He claimed that this is why America has “lost its way,” and that he would be publishing a pamphlet “this week, maybe next” that contained copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, thereby proving that all the people “who found this nation — black, white, all people, all religions, all faiths” knew that America was “about God.”

Chief Justice Moore later defined “life” via Blackstone’s Law — a book that American lawyers have “sadly forgotten” — as beginning when “the baby kicks.” “Today,” he said, “our courts say it’s not alive ’til the head comes out.”

“Now,” he continued, “if technology’s supposed to increase our knowledge, how did we become so stupid?” Discussing Thomas Jefferson’s use of “life” in the Declaration of Independence, he said that “when [Jefferson] put ‘life’ in there, it was in the womb — we know it begins at conception. Why aren’t we going the right way instead of the wrong way?”

And before you dismiss this as Alabama just being Alabama, take a look at what’s happening over at the U.S. Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a town in upstate New York may begin its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, said “ceremonial prayer 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.”

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14 Responses to I Say a Little Prayer for You

  1. nickgb says:

    Kennedy has pretty much lost his mind at this point. From the NYT piece:

    But Justice Kennedy said the relevant constitutional question was not whether they were offended. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” he wrote.

    I’d bet the case would come out differently if it were a swastika over the city hall door, or a burning cross to announce town hall meetings. But as long as it’s just harmless lovable fluffy Christianity, the conservatives on the Supreme Court want you to just get over your discomfort.

    • dedc79 says:

      He has a very elastic definition of the word “coercive”.
      I think this is just one of those situations where they wanted to dodge the firestorm that would erupt if they ruled the other way. The result, unfortunately is further slippage in the separation of church and state

  2. Pino says:

    Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court

    So I stipulate that Mr. Moore is crazy.

    Chief Justice Moore later defined “life”

    That being said – why are you conflating the abortion debate and public prayer?

    take a look at what’s happening over at the U.S. Supreme Court:

    There is little doubt that America has always been, and explicitly so, a religiously “founded” nation. Washington often spoke of this as the Divine Experiment. Government officials have always understood that relationship – it’s in our day to day prayers, Washington’s General’s Orders. We put God on our money.

    I’m sure that you have taken way more hours of class on this than I have [in my case - zero], but I can’t see how people take “Separation of church and state” to mean anything more than “the leaders of the church cannot be the same leaders of the state”. This is to say, “we do not want the Head of The Church of England” to be “The Head of The State of England”.

    It seems completely logical that a city can offer prayer before meeting as long as they are not coercing participation in said prayer.

    • nickgb says:

      I can’t see how people take “Separation of church and state” to mean anything more than “the leaders of the church cannot be the same leaders of the state”.

      You’re close, but not quite on the nail-head. The First Amendment doesn’t say separation, it says that Congress cannot make a law “respecting an establishment of religion.” What that means, at the very least and in the most literal reading, is that Congress can’t establish an official religion. Because of the 14th Amendment, that restriction applies to state and local governments as well.

      If you had a catholic priest deliver a prayer before every meeting, that would give the impression of an official status of Catholicism, and thus would violate the Amendment. If you had a christian minister deliver a prayer before every meeting, then I think that still would violate it because it would promote Christianity to an official religion.

      The way these people get around it is by saying that anyone of any religion (or no religion) could come and give a prayer, but it just happens to always be a Christian minister. This is where Kennedy falls over himself, because that conceit seems to save the day for him, even though it’s simply a gloss on having Christian-only prayers.

      You’re looking at this from the perspective that the First Amendment protects people from forced conversion, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about making sure that people who aren’t in the dominant religion are still treated as equals. When you go into a city hall meeting that has the appearance of a religious meeting for a religion you don’t belong to, it gives the impression (and, in many cases, the actual effect) that you are an outsider, not entitled to the same protections as other citizens.

      • Pino says:

        The First Amendment doesn’t say separation, it says that Congress cannot make a law “respecting an establishment of religion.”

        Yeah, I was reading The Nation and the destruction of “Separation”.

        Because of the 14th Amendment, that restriction applies to state and local governments as well.

        Is the 14th a method to reduce the power of “Federalism”?

        If you had a catholic priest deliver a prayer before every meeting, that
        would give the impression of an official status of Catholicism, and
        thus would violate the Amendment. If you had a christian minister
        deliver a prayer before every meeting, then I think that still would
        violate it because it would promote Christianity to an official
        religion.

        So – yeah. That I get and resonate with.

        I think that it should go to the local population of the town in general and then the population of people who make up meeting attendance and THEN the population of people who ask to pray.

        If the council doesn’t allow a Lutheran minister to pray even though 45% of the town is Lutheran – problem. Same for different faiths; Judaism and Islam for example.

        The trick is to figure out the rabble rousers from the devout.

        For example, take a Masonic Lodge. We are expressly Spiritual – you must profess a belief in a divine being to become a member – however, we don’t -can’t- discriminate on faith. Jew, Christian, Muslim and Hindu pray around our alter.

        Here in Raleigh I presided over my lodge last year and I had a brother ask me to display the Koran on our alter next to the Bible and the Torah. I asked the man which among us was Muslim and when he answered, “No one” I declined. He then pressed me and said he would convert to Islam – I told I still wouldn’t display it.

        The faith of the community should be conveyed in the traditions of the community.

        And remember, while Washington prayed often and in official capacity he rarely referenced the Christian God – hardly ever the Abrahamic God, in fact. He used such references as:

        The Divine Author of All Pubic Good
        All Wise, and Powerful Director of Human Events

        http://books.google.com/books?id=vMM1rN9Qam4C&pg=PA243&lpg=PA243&dq=names+of+washington%27s+god&source=bl&ots=_TR4dClUMe&sig=vrElOygvisUmN7i1QHnsrtTuNKk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2KFpU5W0C8LcyQGLuoDoCA&ved=0CGMQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=names%20of%20washington%27s%20god&f=false

        This was, of course, because Washington was a Mason too ;-)

        When you go into a city hall meeting that has the appearance of a
        religious meeting for a religion you don’t belong to, it gives the
        impression (and, in many cases, the actual effect) that you are an
        outsider

        I do acknowledge a certain discomfort with overt use of Christian preference in public prayer.

        Bill O’Reilly hates hearing “Happy Holidays” but what should really tick him off is “In God We Trust” on our currency.

        I agree, to a degree.

        That said, I work in a very diverse office with differing faiths. On the last work day before a major religious Holiday you’ll hear, Merry Christmas – Happy Easter, and so on.

        I always go out of my way to say that to people I know fairly well, otherwise it’s “less meaningful”. And when I say it to someone of another faith – I always mention that this time of year is Holy to me, and in tat spirit, I offer you the respect of my faith while acknowledging yours.

        Namaste – That which is Holy in me bows in respect to that which is Holy in you.

      • Mike says:

        I think the real problem is that the definition of “establish” isn’t very clear.

        To the Founders, establishment of an official religion would most likely require one of two things: state-sanctioned persecution of a particular religion, or a religious prerequisite for holding public office (as was the case in colonial times). Obviously, this is a no- brainier today. However, what we argue today is whether the Establishment Clause forbids the government from alluding to religion at all (which is unrealistic) or whether it requires the government to give equal air time to all religions (which is impossible). I think this approach is wrong.

        The government will probably always reflect the prevailing religious views of society. Today, this means generic Christian prayers at the opening of congressional meetings and generic allusions to Christianity by the vast majority of politicians. The real question to me is not whether this is right (who really knows if that’s the case) but rather are non-Christians materially harmed by any of this, and there, I think the answer is pretty clearly no. If a catholic priest opens a town hall with a prayer, non-Catholics aren’t harmed until their rights to speak, vote, etc are diminished or disallowed based in their non-Catholicism.

        (Mind you, I think this goes both ways, and the folks on the right who play the religious liberty card over the birth control mandate or serving gay patrons also fail to meet the material harm threshold).

        • dedc79 says:

          Not sure I agree that the question should concern whether there’s been “material harm”, but regardless I’d want to know more about what you mean by it.

          • mike says:

            When public officials and institutions make vague and generic allusions to Christianity, does it directly or indirectly have an adverse impact on the ability of atheists, non-Christians, and non-mainstream Christians (i.e. Fundamentalist Mormons, etc.) to fully realize the freedoms, rights, and privileges they are entitled to as Americans?

            This is what I mean by “material harm”. It means that non-believers are being forced to participate in religious activities with which they disagree, or, subsequent and at least partially due to the public entity making a religious gesture, are subjected to public ridicule, are barred from engaging in debate, are subjected to unfavorable taxation, are deprived of Equal Protection as set forth in the 14th Amendment, and so on.

            If you simply don’t like hearing a vaguely Christian prayer, or prefer that “In God We Trust” wasn’t printed on American currency, that’s not “material harm”. Moreover, if you’re an atheist, you’re not making friends or winning public opinion by suing to stop these things, even though that may technically be your right.

            Mind you, I say this as somebody who doesn’t think that governmental entities should be opening legislative sessions with prayers. I just think that in the face of tradition and the prevailing views of the country, the “material harm” threshold is a much more practical way of defining the Establishment Clause in today’s world.

          • dedc79 says:

            If you want an example of what happens when the “ceremonial” stuff is tolerated, take a look at all the problems the US Air Force has had http://www.airforcetimes.com/article/20120311/NEWS/203110301/Air-Force-struggles-find-balance-religion

    • dedc79 says:

      In addition to what nick wrote, i’d add that the separation of church and state is a two-way street. Organized religion doesn’t necessarily benefit from govt sponsorship. The Fox News crowd is obsessed with the supposed progressive War on Christmas, but they’re mistifyingly far less concerned when the Supreme Court declares that various religious symbols/activities aren’t really about the promotion of religion.
      Did putting “In God We Trust” on our currency during the Civil War have any religious benefit? Does anyone think God is honored/pleased by it? So much of this stuff is born not out of religious faith but out of religious insecurity – the concern that if americans don’t have constant reminders of god’s supremacy everywhere, we’ll turn into heathens (or more so than we already are). The result more often than not tends to be the opposite – it facilitates a kind of secularization of religion. Bill O’Reilly hates hearing “Happy Holidays” but what should really tick him off is “In God We Trust” on our currency.

  3. Pino says:

    You understand that we are overwhelmingly a nation of spiritual people? And we don’t begrudge the fact that you aren’t.

    We simply resent the fact that you don’t reciprocate the sentiment.

    • nickgb says:

      No one is begrudging you your spirituality. You can practice it in private. You can practice in public. You can even have a building where a bunch of you get together regularly and do it. But when you want to put your spirituality on our money, on our public buildings, in our pledge of allegiance, and in our schools, then you have gone beyond religious freedom and into religious imposition. We don’t hate religious people for being religious. But I do resent the fact that some people think that ubiquitous and government support of their faith is part of their private right to religious freedom.

    • dedc79 says:

      Resentment I could deal with and understand, but this isn’t just resentment. We’re talking about government officials (whether local/state/federal), who are supposed to represent people of all different backgrounds, starting off meetings with religious prayers. Why should it matter whether most americans are “spiritual” (that’s a pretty vague framing by the way)? The Bill of Rights protects against tyranny of the majority.

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