May 5th, 2014
04:23 PM ET
After Supreme Court ruling, do religious minorities have a prayer?
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - If you don't like it, leave the room.
That's Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's advice for atheists and others who object to sectarian prayers before government meetings.
In a 5-4 decision written by Kennedy, the Supreme Court allowed Greece, New York, to continue hosting prayers before its monthly town board meetings - even though an atheist and a Jewish citizen complained that the benedictions are almost always explicitly Christian.
Many members of the country's majority faith - that is, Christians - hailed the ruling.
Many members of minority faiths, as well as atheists, responded with palpable anger, saying the Supreme Court has set them apart as second-class citizens.
Groups from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to the Hindu American Foundation decried Monday's decision.
"The court’s decision to bless ‘majority-rules’ prayer is out of step with the changing face of America, which is more secular and less dogmatic,” said Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which litigated the case.
At least one justice, Elena Kagan, seemed to agree. And while Kennedy's decision reads like a lesson in American history, Kagan's dissent offers a picture of the country's increasingly pluralistic present.
American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution, Kennedy writes.
The inaugural and "emphatically Christian" prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians.
The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history, Kennedy writes.
So, the justice suggests, as long prayers at public meetings don't fall into a pattern of proselytizing, denigrating nonbelievers or threatening damnation, what's the problem?
According to a recent poll, the vast majority of Americans share Kennedy's view.
Less than 23% of Americans told pollsters at Fairleigh Dickinson University that they dislike prayers at public government meetings.
“This has always been a praying nation, despite its very secular Constitution,” said Peter J. Woolley, professor of comparative politics at Fairleigh Dickinson in Hackensack, New Jersey.
“People generally see generic prayer as harmless, if not uplifting, not as something that is oppressive.”
But what about people who like their local government meetings to be religion-free?
"Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy," Kennedy writes.
Kagan, writing for the dissenting minority, sharply disagreed.
She suggested that the five justices who formed the majority - all of whom are Catholic - don't understand what it's like to belong to a minority faith in America.
The Supreme Court's Catholic majority seems to think that, because many prayers before government meetings take on a ceremonial aspect, the actual content of the prayers doesn't matter, Kagan continues.
In essence, she said, the majority is making light of religious differences while conferring a special role on Christianity.
"Contrary to the majority's apparent view, such sectarian prayers are not 'part of our expressive idiom' or 'part of our heritage and tradition,' assuming that 'our' refers to all Americans. They express beliefs that are fundamental to some, foreign to others - and because of that they carry the ever-present potential to divide and exclude."
To illustrate her point, Kagan, who is Jewish, raises a hypothetical scenario.
Let's say there's a Muslim resident of Greece, New York, who appears before the town board to share her policy views or request a permit.
Just before the Muslim woman makes her argument, a minister "deputized by the town" asks the room to pray in the name of "God's only son Jesus Christ."
With less than a dozen people the room, every action is noticed.
So, the Muslim woman has two choices, Kagan argues: 1) Go along with the majority and pray, despite her religious objections, or 2) Risk causing some kind of disturbance or public disagreement with the very people she is trying to persuade.
"And thus she stands at a remove, based solely on religion, from her fellow citizens and her elected representatives," Kagan writes.
Kagan did not suggest that the Supreme Court's majority (Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) voted to uphold sectarian prayer because they are members of the country's largest church, Roman Catholicism.
But Ronald Lindsay of the Center for Inquiry, a Humanist group, called it "striking and sad" that "five of the six Christian justices on the Supreme Court formed the majority." (Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is Catholic, voted with Kagan.)
"With a Supreme Court that appears hostile to the rights of religious minorities, those of us who believe in a secular government must redouble our legal and advocacy efforts,” Lindsay said.
Of course, there's a great gap between being Catholic and using the gavel to promote Christianity.
But a new study conducted by scholars at the University of Southern California offers intriguing insights into how the justices have voted on First Amendment issues.
The upshot: The conservative justices tend to side with conservative causes; the liberals with liberal ones.
"Supreme Court Justices are opportunistic supporters of the First Amendment," write the scholars.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
"If you don't like it, leave the room."
Remember that when non Christians want to pray too.
"Leave the room" – I'm surprised they didn't just go the next step and say "Christianity is required for citizenship".
Roman Catholics make up only 20% of the 80% of Americans who are religious...and yet according to Kagan the Catholic Justices don't know what it is like to be part of a religious minority. Good thing she is a judge and not an accountant!
Again, it's quite obvious she is referring to non-Christian minority faiths in contrast to the dominant Christians in the U.S.
Again, Catholics are Christian. About ~78% of Americans belong to Christian sects. Ergo the five conservative justices are part of the Christian majority.
Kagen is Jewish. Jews represent 1.7% of Americans. I'd call that a minority.
If Christians have the right to use prayer in the courtroom, then I have the right to chant the Lotus Sutra. If they don't like it, then deal with it.
Read the article. Anyone who applied to lead prayer before a meeting was allowed to...so you could have. Knock yourself out. It just happens that most folks in the town are Christians...so most who applied to pray were...gasp...Christians. Get a life.
I think that Christians are called to be respectful and I try to be. Jimmy, if you think you can do this and be respectful of others around you...go for it...the floor is yours.
I agree to a point, but I find government led prayer to be extremely disrespectful to those that old different views.
It's essentially dividing the room into "them" and "us", which is the opposite of what a government (representational) body should be.
Hey, now you're getting it. That's exactly right, you have that right.
there is no need to leave the room... just shout out the prayers of your religion while the rest are praying for their Christian God...
AMEN brother! You are ABSOLUTELY right.
...right...because this is your idea of promoting tolerance?
Yes, similar to the tolerance the Supreme Court of Clowns has provided.
Not promoting tolerance but perhaps protesting inequity.
and your idea of tolerance is christian prayer in public places and government business?
I'm SURE (sarcasm) that a muslim man could spend that same time praying to Allah in peace without being harassed while the rest of the Christian audience prayed, right?
Unfortunately, the Muslim idea of "praying in peace" is yelling Allah Akbar for killing someone or destroying property.
Did you hear that from a 'smart' lawyer?
I think not.
Or when someone scores a goal at a sporting event. Your opinion of true Islam is staggeringly poor.
I really do not see why not. As a Christian, I would have no problems whatsoever in allowing someone to practice their freedom of religious expression - and if I had an issue with it I can rest in knowing that I could leave the room.
So you go to a government meeting and then leave because there are, say, Hindu, prayers. How many times would you leave before you complained? 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months .....?
The "wall of separation between church and state"
Thomas Jefferson seemed pretty clear about this....
James Madison (who framed most of the const.itution) was even clearer on this specific topic.
Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Consti.tution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?
In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Const.itution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.
See 'Detached Memoranda'.
Right to keep the State for interfering with the public exercise of religion. Read the "Letter the Danberry Baptist Association" that the phrase comes if you really want to understand. He meant to keep the State our of religion, not to keep religion out of public life.
"Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together." –James Madison
"The Civil Govt, tho' bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success, Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State." –James Madison
Umm.. Thomas Jefferson worked to deestablish religion in the state of Virginia... how much more evidence do you want that he did not want religion in any government activities.
Having said that, I did not say that he wanted to eradicate religion... in fact, he was very interested in religious studies and morality, but NOT in government,... keep it in your private life.
"He meant to keep the State our of religion
And religion out of the state. Religion belongs at home and in church.
You do realize that Jefferson had this engraved on his tombstone:
"Here was buried
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
Father of the University of Virginia.
He was very proud of authoring the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom which disestablished the church in Virginia which contains, in part, the following:
"Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.
This is history 101. The Pilgrims and Puritans left England because they were being persecuted and they were looking for a place to live where they could practice their religion without persecution. I'm a descendant of both a Pilgrim and a Puritan.
Thomas was very clear on this. .. And he would be very ashamed of how this country is being ran. ..
For once Supreme Court has made a ruling that by far the largest majority of Americans agree with! There's nothing forcing the people who don't agree with prayer to stay in the room while it's being said just like this of forcing them to go to church and listen to prayers they don't agree with!
So no problem for you if atheists are given equal time to speak. You can leave, etc. Right?
I do find it interesting that those that get so upset with Christians because of perceived intolerance tend to be the most intolerant of all. Look, if an atheist wants to speak respectfully...go for it.
Speaking of intolerance, it's usually Christians that have collected tens of millions of dollars to deny equal rights to others and call people "murderers" who haven't murdered anyone.
So you're OK with a Satanist giving the blessing at your town hall meeting?
Sure...if they represent a significant voice in the community, that would be fine.
"if they represent a significant voice in the community"
Why should this matter? Shouldn't the local government represent everyone, not just those that happen to be part of the current majority?
If your neighborhood became predominantly muslim, I wouldn't want to sit through that (or be forced to exclude myself) anymore than I would a Christian prayer session.
I had this exact thought...and to be honest, struggled with it. I cannot say I would be in massive celebration mode during such an invocation, but as long as it was respectful I would rather allow them to practice this than to have my right to pray removed. No question though, these are not always easy decisions.
No one is trying to take away a "right", they are looking to have the "rights" of everyone expanded. The only way to do that (in my opinion) is to have a completely secular government. Can your beliefs inform your decisions? Of course! Can you pray on street-corners, in your homes, the park, the church? Of course!
Is it appropriate to call out a particular religion as part of a government function? NO!
The majority of justices just told Americans who do not practice Christianity.. "if you don't like it you can leave." That is so school yard it is embarrassing. If they were really doing their job, protecting all Americans, and not just those they like... they would know their words are childish and won't stand the test of time. In just a couple of decades this decision will be overturned and Roberts and Kennedy will go down in history as the most backward, childish justices ever.
For now they will be known as the Supreme Court of Clowns....
I think prayer is best kept personal. If you need to pray, a quite mental prayer is sufficient at the work place. I believe that group prayer is powerful however the best place for that could be at home or a place of worship.
This ruling is truly revealing on just how far off center the Supreme Court has become.
Ok Christians... now I would like the Supreme Court to rule on what Sect of Christianity should be official, since by this ruling they have declared that Christianity is the official sanctioned religion of the country. Who will win the next round... Catholics, Baptists, Protestants.... I'm thinking that the Catholics have got it since the majority of the Court is Catholic.. Certainly the Baptists and the Protestant should not be bothered with that. And if the Catholics are going to be the chosen ones shouldn't priests pick the prayers for schools also?? Exactly where does this end.. Favoritism towards religion is a double edged sword.
I saw throw the bums out.. I want the court to protect the right to religion, even though I am definitely not religious. But this is crap.
If you took the time to read, you would have seen that everyone is welcome to pray. Even a Wiccan. If the court would have held that only Christian prayers could be used, then you would have an establishment argument. There is no amendment protecting people from exposure to religion.
You had better read that decision again....
isn't it amazing how much atheists fight the very God they insist doesn't exist?
We aren't fighting god, there is no god. We are fighting the deluded.
Nah. You wouldn't care if someone insisted on mentioning the tooth fairy or Superman. It's G-O-D that you can't stand to hear, because deep down, you know you're wrong.
someone mentioning the tooth fairy or superman at a town hall meeting is as silly as mentioning about a god
Its inappropriate. It is common sense yet you seem to have none..... I suggest a name change.. -smart +dumb
We don't care about the tooth fairy precisely because the possibility that someone will use their belief in the tooth fairy to affect our own lives is nil.
notsmartlawyer....please change your moniker....my suggestion is much more appropriate for you. I don't know for sure if there is no god, but logic and reason dictates to me that there is not. The concept is just too silly for an intelligent person to grab ahold of. Now....for the truly hopeless, I understand the need for a crutch to get through life....but I don't need that crutch. Pray all you want, but do it in private.
what do you mean by fight? we just don't like to hear babbling nonsense that insults our intelligence.
Nah, you hear nonsense every day that insults your intelligence. You wouldn't sue over it, though. But you don't like being reminded that you're in moral rebellion – it's uncomfortable – so you seek to stifle any reminder.
i agree.. nonsense... as in your post.
Moral rebellion? Are you nuts? The religious are the least moral people on the planet! Don't blow smoke in my face, and don't ear fvck me with your babbling BS nonsensical prayers.
Obviously you miss the point of their judgement entirely... Try thinking.
"When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues (or, insert public space) where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get."
notsmartlawyer....for somebody that claims in their moniker, you seem pretty stupid to me. Apparently you have no idea what atheists are about. We don't really care if you want to pray....just not in our faces. This is exactly like the fight us non-smokers had with the smokers back in the 80s. I don't care if you kill yourself or pray....but, I don't want it anywhere near me. Is that really that difficult a concept to understand?
The religious right – divide and conquer. They are screwing up the country. Clearly the xtians are in charge and have been for awhile. They are responsible for the shape America is in.
Kagan actually seems not to know that Roman Catholics ARE a minority faith in the USA. According to Wikipedia, Roman Catholics make up 20% of the population, unaffiliated 21% and Protestants a whopping 49%. How did she get to be a Supreme Court justice while being so demonstratively ignorant?
CNN – Kagan suggested that the five justices who formed the majority – all of whom are Catholic – don't understand what it's like to belong to a minority faith in America.
It's pretty obvious that she was referring to the Christian majority versus non-Christians. That is, unless you insist that Catholics are not Christians...
That's silly. Ever been to Northern Ireland? I can say "monotheists" and then on that basis claim that Christians are not a "religious minority" in Muslim Saudi Arabia...but you would rightly say I was an idiot...just like Kagan.
I think the subject is the U.S. Now if you want to start splitting Christian sects and claim each is a minority – I most certainly can do that. Let's see there are some that still sacrifice people. Then we have those who officially claim the Pope is the antichrist. Then we have those that promote disease across the globe because of their unrealistic stance on contraception. Then we have those who let their children die rather than seek medical care. So do we really need to split the hairs in defining Christianity the way you seem fit for THIS particular argument?
Ever heard of thing called the "protestant reformation" or the "inquisition" or the "papal bull of excommunication" for all protestants? The two groups aren't exactly buddy-buddy.
By your math, Christians are the majority. Catholics are Christian, ergo they belong to the Christian majority.
I think you will find Jews (1.7%) to be the very definition of minority as far as religious affiliation is concerned.
There are fewer Jews than atheist / agnostics (6 – 7%).
...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
People are allowed to pray, where ever and whenever they want, whether or not they work for the government. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Pagans, all people are allowed to freely exercise their religion. Get over it.
Do you all seriously want the law to ban the religions you dislike from practicing their religion where you can see it?
Get over yourselves. You are not hurt in the least by anyone, of any religion, praying, and the government is not there to protect you from seeing things you disagree with.
"People are allowed to pray, where ever and whenever they want, whether or not they work for the government."
WRONG. Try standing up and praying in the middle of a Broadway show or movie theater.
No, you are wrong. The government will not stop you from praying in the middle of a Broadway show. The proprietor of a private business can tell you to leave, and if you are persistent the government will come along and enforce trespassing laws. But the law is very clear that the government can not pass any law preventing the free exercise of religion.
Again, the government is not there to save you from being exposed to things you disagree with, nor to enforce your bigotries. Get over it, there a almost seven billion people in the world, and almost all of the follow one religion or another.
How are you harmed by someone praying to a deity you don't believe in?
Get over yourself, you petty, whining bigot.
Semper Cogitatus ,
Grow up. Would Jesus have said the juvenile insults like you did?
Just another HYPOCRITICAL believer.
@ Observer – I'm not a believer at all. I'm just not a bigot like you. Would some itinerant preacher that may have lived 2000 years ago had an opinion on what I say? Who cares?
Almost all people are religious. You are not harmed by any of them praying in public, not harmed even a little. Whether they cross themselves, roll out a prayer rug, or dance around naked with their bellies painted blue, it does not harm you at all. You want the government to stop others from doing harmless things that you dislike. You are a bigot.
Don't continue to make a FOOL of YOURSELF by calling someone you don't know a bigot.
Don't act so DIMWITTED.
You would be stopped in a show if you prayed out loud not because it was a prayer, but because it was disturbing the show, just like if someone decided to recite Shakespeare outloud in the middle of a show. Prayer is not the issue in that example, disturbing/interrupting a show is.
Enough with this misconception about the Founding Fathers and their endorsement of Christianity, etc...
Educate yourself, read up on history, and realize that Thomas Jefferson wanted organized religion to die out and wanted to make laws based around this belief.
Obviously the Nitwit who said that Jefferson was in love with Jesus has never been to Monticello or studied his beliefs. They were no where close to what was described.
Meanwhile, I can talk on my cell phone, or make any obscene noise I want during their prayer, because I'm allowed to not have to pay attention or respect their request for the silence during this prayer
That's my plan...
Yet another great idea!
Absolutely true. Being rude is not illegal. Or, you could live and let live, and realize that a group of people praying to a deity that does not exist does you no harm at all. Do you seriously want to government to protect you from seeing things you disagree with?
I want a government that protects the minority over the majority.. that's a government that was intended by Thomas Jefferson.
You want a government that prevents the majority from practicing their beliefs in public? You want a government the prevents groups you disagree with from expressing themselves? You want to be protected from seeing things you disagree with?
Get over yourself you petty, whining, bigot.
semper....you are a complete azzhole. And....very un-christianlike as well. Remember when the majority in this country wanted to own other human beings? Remember when the majority in this country wanted to not allow women to vote? Fortunately, the majority doesn't always get their way. This is just another of those instances. Now....see if you can reply to people without using that condescending, demeaning, Christian tone....I'm betting you can't.
Semper. No one is stopping anyone from practicing their beliefs. They are free to do so. It is simply inapproprite to expect to practice your beliefs on government time. Nowhere in christianity does it say you are to pray before business meetings, so praying before a meeting has NOTHING to do with your relgion. It is an inappropriate religious display on governemt time.
simper, How would you feel if christianity were not the majority? Would you enjoy Hindu or Muslim prayers before each meeting?
"does you no harm at all"
Yes it does, it wastes time and money, so harms all.
when the muslims.. become a majority in the community.. they will demand to ban prayer.
I suggest passing gas loudly....
booooo-hooooooooooo..sure a lot of cry babies out tonight...way to go Kennedy...conservatives all the way!
This is NOT a conservative decision. This is a RELIGIOUS decision but you're too ignorant to even think for one moment that an atheist or a jew or a hindu or a (uh-oh) MUSLIM might actually be conservative...
mama always said stupid is as stupid does....
Then I'd say the SCOTUS is pretty stupid right now...
Silly Lil Christians fairy tales are for kids. ...
Which is why it's comforting to know that Jesus was an authentic historical person.
"Which is why it's comforting to know that Jesus was an authentic historical person."
Hercules is the son of Zeus and a human woman. It's a myth changed for a different civilization.
Well, when the highest court of the land is hijacked by a religious cult and sets out to destroy the fabric of our country by introducing state sponsored religion then it is not only time to cry but time for thinking Americans to stand against religious extremists.
Well, think about it. If we could force religious people to stop praying, couldn't we force atheists to pray?
That's just ridiculous and so off the mark. NO ONE IS TELLING YOU NOT TO PRAY!!! We simply would like for it not to be done by our GOVERNMENT and GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONS!!!!
Hey, no problem. Let every other religious person pray their prayer at the same time. All faiths. Satanist, lol, Hell everyone!
"The upshot: The conservative justices tend to side with conservative causes; the liberals with liberal ones."
What a shock.
But this is way over the top.... throw the bums out. The Supreme Court of Clowns has just blown a huge hole in their credibility... I have zero respect for them... Prior to this I was wavering, but this is ridiculous.
Christians, then listen up. If WE have to be forced to listen to you – then YOU will be forced to listen to us when we call you insane and ignorant for believing in fables and fairy tales.