In a 5-4 vote, the court held that the town of Greece, in upstate New York, did not violate the Constitution by starting public meetings with prayers that were almost always Christian. The ruling paves the way for Frazier and the Carroll commissioners to resume prayers invoking Christ before their public meetings. (In March, a federal judge in Baltimore had ordered the commissioners to stop doing just that.)The New York Times:
"It's a frustrating and disingenuous decision," says Michael Meyerson, the University of Baltimore law professor whose 2012 book, "Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in America," was cited in the court's majority opinion. While pleased with that, Meyerson noted that the quote from his book was "taken out of context and [used] by the wrong side."
His point: The Founding Fathers and framers of the Constitution — Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and others — might have mentioned a specific religion when speaking among themselves, but when they addressed the public they were "incredibly sensitive" not to appear to favor any particular creed.
The American values of pluralism and inclusion are central to the First Amendment, which forbids government from favoring or aligning itself with any particular religion or believers over nonbelievers.Much more on this and other top stories below the fold.
In a lamentable ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority brushed past those core values to allow the town of Greece, in upstate New York, to begin its town hall meetings with a sectarian prayer nearly always from a Christian “chaplain of the month.” [...] It was disappointing that the Justice Department urged the justices to uphold the prayer practice in the town hall meetings, which skirted the constitutional principle of religious neutrality and caused some residents to feel like outsiders.
Elizabeth Dias at TIME says the decision doesn't end the debate:
Shortly after the ruling came down, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted its disappointment—“Official religious favoritism should be off-limits under the Constitution”—while conservative Christian leaders from Russell Moore to Ralph Reed praised the decision as a First Amendment victory. “The court has rejected the idea that as citizens we must check our faith at the entrance to the public square,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, says. “This welcome decision is very helpful in putting the brakes on the efforts of militant secularists to rid the public square of any religious expression.”Eugene Volokh adds his take:
[...] the losing plaintiffs also have some religious leaders on their side. Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, stood against Monday’s ruling and may be allies for the opposition as the fight continues. “If there is any positive side in this disturbing decision it is that the court makes clear that if ‘the invocations denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion…That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court,’” Gaddy said. “The distinction is a difficult one to make and one I expect will cause the courts to revisit the issue soon.” In a separate statement, Saperstein said, “Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that requiring invocations be nonsectarian would call on the legislatures sponsoring these prayers and the courts to intervene and ‘act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.’ Yet, Justice Kennedy did suggest there were limits to such prayers, among them: denigrating non-believers or religious minorities, threatening damnation, or preaching conversion—leaving courts in exactly the same role as line-drawers.”
The majority implies that the prayers might be impermissible if they “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion,” or if the prayer giver is chosen in a religiously discriminatory way. (In this case, the prayer givers rotated among local religious denominations, and the city apparently did not intentionally limit itself to some religions.) But there is no requirement that each prayer be “nonsectarian” or ecumenical; and there’s no requirement that the prayer givers rotate this way, and indeed many legislatures, including Congress and the Nebraska Legislature in Marsh, hire chaplains for extended lengths of time. [...] More broadly, the majority didn’t use this case as an opportunity to overturn the “endorsement” test that still has bare support in the precedents. This decision was narrowly focused on legislative prayer, a practice that has an unusually long and specific American tradition dating back to the Framing and even to the Continental Congress in 1774; it does not speak to how courts should consider other references to religion, such as on monuments, on city seals, in holiday displays, and the like. And while Justice Thomas repeated his view that the Establishment Clause should not be seen as incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment against the states, no other Justice joined that view.Switching topics in today's roundup, Jay Bookman writes about the gun lobby's opposition to smart gun technology and one store owner's reaction:
Andy Raymond, the owner of the Maryland store forced to drop the Armatix pistol from its inventory, has posted a YouTube video to express his frustration with the death threats and other opposition. He agreed to sell the gun, he said, because he thought it might broaden the appeal of handguns to buyers who were afraid it might be misused.Lynn Evans has an interesting (and scary) piece about politics and science:
"How can the NRA or other people want to prohibit a gun when we're supposed to be pro gun, we're supposed to say that any gun is good in the right person's hands?" Raymond asked "How can they say that a gun should be prohibited? How hypocritical is that?"
Science and the scientific method are directly responsible for the economic and technological boom that we all benefit from today, from medical breakthroughs to the technology revolution to the changes in farming and manufacturing that have raised people’s standard of living worldwide. Nevertheless, certain politicians and talking heads regularly rant against science and scientific findings when they don’t fit their political agenda or their worldview.Katrina vandun Heuvel writes in support of a transaction tax:
The European Financial Transaction (a k a Robin Hood) tax scored a big legal victory on April 30, when a challenge regarding the legality of the tax brought by the British government was thrown out by the European Court of Justice. The ECJ has struck a serious blow for fairness, as the dismissal essentially chastises the British government for championing the interests of the UK’s financial industry over those of its citizens. David Hillman, spokesperson for the Robin Hood campaign, told The Guardian, “This futile legal challenge tells you all you need to know about the government’s misguided priorities: it would rather defend a privileged elite in the City than support a tax that could raise billions to tackle poverty and protect public services.” [...] The Robin Hood Tax is, as European FTT campaigners say, the “most popular tax in history,” and such high regard—even for something as seemingly unromantic as a 0.1 percent tax—isn’t difficult to understand: FTT revenue can be used to create jobs; spur economic development beyond the financial industry; and combat climate change, global poverty and HIV/AIDS. One measure of the tax’s popularity is that this week’s announcement about the FTT’s first phase has been scheduled to occur during the lead-up to the European Parliament elections of May 22–25, and support for the tax is expected to be a major vote-getter. Not exactly an American-election-style “October Surprise” to be sure, but certainly a signal to candidates: Robin Hood matters to European citizens. You can lend your name to the movement, too, by signing the “1 Million Strong” petition.Finally, here's a really important piece by Eugene Robinson:
Democrats, if you want to win in the fall, take some advice from Pharrell Williams: “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.”
The Mountie-hat-wearing pop singer’s infectious “Happy” should be the Democratic Party’s theme song for the midterm election. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, things are definitely looking up. Democrats ought to be clicking their heels and spreading the good news. [...]
Democrats now have a positive story they can tell in their campaign ads and speeches: “We promised you that these were the right policies to get the economy on track and reform health care. We said it would take time to see results and asked for patience. You gave us your trust, and now we’re seeing the benefits. This is just the beginning. Give us a mandate to keep moving forward on an agenda that is working.”