One of the smartest and funniest guys I know is a Catholic priest. This is a never ending source of jokes, which he takes with aplomb, because he knows that I don’t share his enthusiasm for Jesus, pomp and circumstance and trappings. I insist he’d be Buddhist except that black is slimming.
But why does his tribe get to invoke the name of his God before petty officials meet to decide mundane issues of
state town? Tradition. The Supremes, in what is aptly described as a deeply fractured decision, upheld the tradition of the Town of Greece, New York, in having a clergy-guy give a ceremonial invocation before their monthly meetings.
It’s not that they’re Christian-centric, they say, but there aren’t any other churches in the phone book, and so they end up with a prayer like this:
“Lord, God of all creation, we give you thanks and praise for your presence and action in the world. We look with anticipation to the celebration of Holy Week and Easter. It is in the solemn events of next week that we find the very heart and center of our Christian faith. We acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We draw strength, vitality, and confidence from his resurrection at Easter. . . . We pray for peace in the world, an end to terrorism,violence, conflict, and war. We pray for stability, democracy, and good government in those countries in which our armed forces are now serving, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . Praise and glory be yours, O Lord, now and forever more. Amen.”
This is a perfectly fine prayer, if one happens to believe in Christianity. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Justice Kennedy, to the extent anyone wrote for the Court, glossed over the big issue of Marsh v. Chambers, where the Court glossed over why this happens in the first place.
Ceremonial prayer 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 the authority of government to alter or define and that willing participation in civic affairs can be consistent with a brief acknowledgment of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs. The prayer in this case has a permissible ceremonial purpose. It is not an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
Tradition. When the clergy invoked Jesus, it’s not religious, but ceremonial. It’s “but a recognition” that this is an American tradition. This rhetoric is unadulterated nonsense, wrapping overt religion in a pretty, red ceremonial bow and calling it ceremonial.
The Court went on to hold that as long as the Greekers weren’t limiting their invocations to Christianity, but were constrained by availability and were otherwise open to any religious invocation, there was no unconstitutional establishment. It was just “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the nation’s heritage, ” a limited holding which sated some voices on the secular right, like Walter Olson and Eugene Volokh. To my surprise, they both seem to embrace the dogma that a meeting of petty officials cannot begin without some ceremonial invocation.
The American Humanist Association announced that it is launching a program training people in the giving of secular invocations. So did the Freedom from Religion Foundation, but with very different aims in mind: the AHA wants to show that unbelievers can fully join in and be an equal part of the civic ideals traditionally symbolized by invocations, while the FFRF is more intent on upsetting the applecart and creating enough discomfort with the whole idea of such a ceremony to cause its discontinuance.
Both favor the AHA approach, perhaps because petty officials make far better decisions when there is a ceremony up front to remind them of the solemnity of their duty? In Eugene’s case, I’m less surprised as he’s fairly slavish toward precedent like Marsh. As for Wally, it beats the heck out of me. I suppose he’s more of a split-the-baby type of guy when it comes to pointless ceremonial nonsense.
And no, it’s not a big deal that the Town of Greece conducts this ceremony before its monthly meetings. And it may well be that there are no alternative clergy to Christians in the phone book. Of course, nobody is talking about the atheists, but that glaring hole has no peg to fill it, and so it’s best left out of the ruling.
It’s not that I’m antagonistic toward tradition. I really enjoyed the Queen’s Jubilee, and Prince William’s wedding was great to watch. But when a tradition facially conflicts with a basic tenet of the Constitution, the fact that it’s a tradition does not provide a rationale for ignoring unconstitutionality. Not even if a wrong decision was made in 1983, throwing empty words on a page to circumlocute the obvious, that religious prayers have no business in secular government functions.
You want to hold ten-hour masses? Knock yourself out. Sing psalms all day long. Just do it in your Church, your home, as you walk down the street in your head if that’s your thing. But when a line item in a government agenda is “invoke Jesus’ glory,” there has been an inexplicable and needless crossing of a line.
The only way the Supremes could blow by the problem is to wipe it away with invocation of tradition. It’s not religion. It’s tradition. It’s not religion. It’s ceremonial. It’s not religion. It’s what we have always done to show respect.
Cut the crap. It’s religion. And yes, it is most assuredly a tradition. So too was keeping the darkies to their own schools and water fountains so they wouldn’t contaminate our beautiful, pure, white children. The same rationale that allows the Supreme Court to leap over separation of Church and State would allow it to approve separate but equal. It’s not racism. It’s tradition. And that’s what makes this wrong, no matter how many adjectives Justice Kennedy wraps around this doctrinal absurdity.
My priest friend knows a prayer when he gives one. He can’t believe that local governments still let him in the door to spew some of his Jesus juice to the conclave, but he will keep selling as long as they keep buying. I close my eyes when I’m forced to sit through this claptrap. People think I’m meditating on some godly matter, but I’m not. In my head, I’m listening to Joe Rogan’s Voodoo Punanny.
We each have our preferred flavor of voodoo, and no clergyman’s invocation is going to change mine.