05/05/2014 04:17 pm ET Updated Jul 05, 2014

Why SCOTUS' Prayer Ruling White-Washes Religion


On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Christian prayer in town council meetings does not violate the Constitution. From their reasoning we can conclude that the prayers are not intended to proselytize; a "generic reference to the sacred" is fine; and prayer is part of the nation's fabric.

As someone who has sat through countless religious services -- Christian and otherwise -- and who has always substituted the language in my head to suit my personal beliefs, I'm troubled by SCOTUS' ruling.

What this signifies to me is that we still live in a country that views the default American as Christian and everyone else as a variation. Our strides toward pluralism, diversity and inclusion are essentially token nods to non-discrimination. But at the end of the day, we're all expected to sit through Christian teachings -- or as Justice Kennedy says, simply leave the room -- because such teachings are part of our nation's fabric.

Thus it becomes anti-American to argue against these prayers, and those who feel forgotten, insulted and discriminated against somehow become the bad guys for voicing their concerns.

It's a hollow kind of freedom that allows people to practice whatever faith they choose but says they must sit nicely through the Christian worship regardless. If we are to fully celebrate religious diversity and freedom in this country, we must also celebrate the earnest desires of all religious and non-religious people to be recognized.

I imagine any Christian who sees their prayers as more than a "generic reference to the sacred" might feel similarly irked. SCOTUS' decision reduces Christian theology to a rote or standard faith that is bland enough to not offend. But when the country as a whole is white-washed as a Christian nation, so too is the Christian faith reduced to essentials and stripped of subtlety.

I believe in freedom of speech, and I believe religion has a place in the public sphere. But in any given secular gathering we can assume there will be non-Christians present -- and it's our right in the 21st century to assume as much. If the community collectively agrees to begin its meetings with Christian prayer -- or with Buddhist chanting, or sacred dance, or improv games -- then so be it. But we cannot make these decisions based on a flawed and discriminatory idea of who the 'default' American should be.