My reflections and musings on the struggle to leave a Christ-shaped impression on the world of law and public policy.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Courts, Prayer, and People's Hurt Feelings

You may have heard by now that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving invocations at town meetings.  The case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, arises out of a New York town where officials tried hard to do everything right. 

Under the Town's neutral policy, clergy from various places of worship listed in town publications were invited to offer invocations at the monthly public meetings.  Citizens could also volunteer to offer prayers, and no volunteer (including a Buddhist and a member of the Baha'i faith) was ever refused the opportunity.

So what was the problem with that, you ask?  According to the Second Circuit, there simply weren't enough prayer-givers from minority religions to make the invocation practice acceptable.  This produced the unconscionable result that must, at all costs, be avoided:  the potential for someone in the crowd to "feel" like an "outsider" because the majority of the prayers sounded Christian. 

The appellate court's decision is troubling on many levels.  But most troubling to me, by far, is the idea of a First Amendment that prohibits speech on the basis of how others may feel about it. 

Today I have begun drafting an amicus (friend of the court) brief to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of Virginia Christian Alliance and a number of state legislators.  Our goal is to talk the Court down from the ledge of its modern Establishment Clause jurisprudence, reminding them that the whole point of the First Amendment was to not only protect, but to encourage the kind of robust, full-throated debate that is meaningful enough to cause hurt feelings, but important enough to be worth it.

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