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Supreme Court Wrong to Give Blessing on Public Prayer

05/07/2014 04:28 pm ET | Updated Jul 07, 2014
  • Steve Siebold Author and expert in the field of critical thinking and mental toughness training

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled Monday to allow a New York town to begin its council meetings with a Christian prayer. The ruling is a result of two local women suing officials in Greece, New York, objecting to invocations at monthly public sessions on government property -- a practice that has been taking place in the town since 1999.

More specifically, in the complaint, the two women say the invocations have become overwhelmingly Christian over the years. Co-plaintiffs Linda Stephens and Susan Galloway filed the suit, claiming officials repeatedly refused their requests to modify or eliminate the practice -- or at the very least to make it more inclusive.

Justice Elena Kagan said the court had crossed a line by approving a policy of "religious favoritism" and she's right. Kagan said:

When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. They should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines.

The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world, boasting more than 1,500 religious bodies and sects. There are hundreds of thousands of churches, mosques, temples and synagogues representing millions of members and an untold number of beliefs and philosophies. Therefore, the separation of church and state is crucial to the protection of free religious exercise.

This is going to be the next battleground after gay rights. The "Nones" (no religious affiliation) are now roughly 20 percent of Americans, and that's only the percentage who will admit it. I believe this percentage will grow dramatically in the next 10 years as younger people who have instant access to information are less likely to believe in ancient traditions that offer no proof or evidence of being true. This makes them less likely to succumb to religious and societal indoctrination. The core premise of organized religion is that we are helpless and hopeless without God, and more and more of the younger generation is rejecting it.

The Supreme Court's ruling further hinders the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court cannot be objective on this issue since it consists mostly of Christians. If people want to pray they should do it privately or in a church. The faithful are as free to pray as they have always been without making a public display out of a private, personal process. The only purpose of praying in public is for proselytizing. It has no place in any state-funded, subsidized or operated organization.

The Christian majority will continue to bully the "Nones" for now because they are bigger, stronger and richer, but as this minority grows and becomes less fearful and more vocal, the Christians will be defeated and forced to practice their faith in private or in church -- where it belongs. For now, the "Nones" will continue to get beat up, marginalized and have their lunch money stolen by the Christian bullies until they grow large enough to fight back.

Co-Plaintiff Linda Stephens said, "I don't believe in God, and Susan (co-plaintiff) is Jewish, so to hear these ministers talk about Jesus and even have some of them who personally question our motives, it's just not appropriate."

Stephens is right. To push Christianity in a public setting is wrong. As Justice Elena Kagan said, "Our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian." The court has betrayed that principle.

When a large group of citizens is gathered, there's no telling what faiths are represented, so publicly praying to Jesus is offensive. The bottom line: the government should not invite members of the clergy to pray at public meetings. If you do, someone is always going to feel left out or offended. And it's more proof that we must continue to push for the separation of church and state.

Believe in any religion you want and worship any God you believe in; after all, that's one of the many great freedoms of living in America. But let's keep religion in religious institutions, and matters of government business in government settings. Bringing the two together always has disastrous consequences.

In this case, the Supreme Court got it wrong. The more dangerous question lurking in the shadows is: what kind of precedent does this set in other communities around the country?

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