Thursday, May 8, 2014

On Town of Greece v. Galloway

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. The case stemmed from the practice of the town of Greece, NY, to start its town council meetings with a sectarian Christian prayer, often invoking "Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior," and similar phrasings. After some local residents complained, the town brought in some non-Christians to give the prayer, but returned to all-Christian prayers after a year or so.

Although many are characterizing the ruling as a victory for the conservative wing of the Court, I must disagree. It is, in fact, a victory for the Christian wing of the Court.

Consider the religious affiliations of the Justices in the way they voted:

FOR Christian prayer before government meetings:

  • John Roberts (Catholic)
  • Anthony M. Kennedy (Catholic)
  • Antonin Scalia (Catholic)
  • Clarence Thomas (Catholic)
  • Samuel Alito (Catholic)
AGAINST Christian prayer before government meetings:


  • Stephen G. Breyer (Jewish)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Jewish)
  • Elena Kagen (Jewish)
  • Sonia Sotomayor (Catholic)

Bear in mind that, although Kennedy votes more often with the conservative wing of the Court than the liberal, he is by no means a party-line ideologue like Scalia or Thomas. He is the "swing vote" on the Court, and could have gone either way on this question. But... it's easy to say that majoritarian prayers don't have any harm if you're in the majority.

Notice who voted against this. All of the non-Christian members of the court, and Sotomayor, who would probably burst into flames if she ever voted with Scalia and Thomas on any issue. The non-Christian Justices know what it's like to be in a country that "tolerates" people whose religion isn't the majority, and they (rightly) said that there is a very real sense of exclusion and coercion that attends such activities when they're undertaken in the context of an official government function.

Make no mistake. This was not a conservative victory. This was a Christian victory. A victory for those who think that the views of the majority can and should be forced on the minority, who think that the minority should simply shut up and be thankful that we're allowed to practice our blasphemous faiths in this country at all. And that point of view transcends party. Bigotry practiced by a majority and endorsed by force of law is no less bigotry.

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