It never ceases to amaze me when an activist group of Atheists complain that public prayers by public officials hurts their feelings and makes them feel excluded. It really is silliness. It has never been unconstitutional to begin official government activities with prayer, especially Christian prayers, unless you’re going to argue that the men who penned the Constitution regularly violated it. This is obvious to anyone with a cursory knowledge of America’s founding.
From the beginning, Christians and Christianity were intended to be intermingled with the governing of its citizens as many of the same men responsible for, and who ratified, the Constitution, specifically the first amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
These same men were also responsible for other State Constitutions; they also — as government officials — prayed sectarian Christian prayers in public schools and at government meetings and public events. They taught from the Bible in public schools and used government buildings as churches. This was the case for their generation and many that followed.
Now we are told that such expressions of religious faith by government officials and school officials are unconstitutional. But it doesn’t seem that the men who crafted the Constitution thought what they were doing was unconstitutional when they did the very same things.
I have to ask of someone arguing that doing what the Founders did when they mingled religion and government is unconstitutional: Is it reasonable to believe the Founders didn’t understand the document they crafted? Or is it more reasonable to think maybe you are misunderstanding the Constitution?
Well, the Supreme Court has just ruled that Atheists arguing for pure secularization based on a reading of the First Amendment are misunderstood about prayer at government meetings.
(Washington Times) — A small New York town’s practice of opening its government meetings with a prayer does not violate the constitutional separation of church and state, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled Monday, in a decision that both sides said could signal a major shift in the role of religion in the public square.
The case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, argued late last year, was considered one of the biggest religious freedom cases of the term. Swing-vote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined the court’s four more conservative members in the 5-4 decision in favor of the town.
“This case is the culmination of an attack on the way people pray,” said Brett Harvey, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented, a town near Rochester. “Scores of cases have been filed challenging the way people pray. There are lower-court cases going on right now, where this case will be used to decide those [cases] … taking up a lot of attention with lower courts.”
Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion, cited the long-held American tradition of public prayers to open legislative and government meetings while holding that the New York town’s practice was nonsectarian and not designed to exclude any residents.
“Ceremonial prayer,” he wrote, “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.”
The case began in 2008 when Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit against the town of Greece on behalf of residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens.
Ms. Galloway, who is Jewish, and Ms. Stephens, an atheist, protested that only Christians were delivering prayers at town council meetings.
Town leaders countered that they provided the opportunity for anyone to lead the opening prayer at the government meeting regardless of their religion or lack thereof — a practice that dates back to the nation’s founding.
“The Congress that drafted the First Amendment would have been accustomed to invocations containing explicitly religious themes of the sort respondents find objectionable,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable.”
The sad thing is, that I don’t think Atheists really are offended or feel excluded by prayers in a public setting. It’s all just ruse to secularize everything because, you know, religion is just fairy tales and superstition. It’s annoying for them to hear, not offensive. But, if hearing public prayers is actually offensive and makes them feel excluded, publicly admitting they are emotionally fragile isn’t a good place to start when trying to claim the intellectual high ground.