Greece v. Galloway was a bad call

So says the bumper sticker on the back of an oversized Ford F-150, complete with other conservative statements ridiculing the government. Of course this truck also features a Texas license plate and a set of horns attached to its over chromed deer-catcher bumper. A good old American truck for a small Texas woman.

Fortunately, the bumper sticker is wrong as we have been reminded in recent, and some believe misguided, Supreme Court cases concerning the separation of church and state. It appears that the interpretation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is not as rock solid as we would like.

In the town of Greece (NY) v. Galloway, the court established that the tradition of prayer before a public entity’s meeting was fine as long as it did not demote other nor promote specific religions – read Christianity here. To this end, Greece and other governmental entities are permitted to include an invocation asking for divine guidance. Greece and other governmental entities, therefore, need to accept requests from religious and non-religious groups other than those of the Christian sects. Thus, Dan Courtney, atheist and advocate for the separation of church and state, gave the invocation on Tuesday July 15, 2014.

It appeared that there is a lot of discussion occurring over the Galloway decision. There are those who believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, though that is incorrect. The Constitution’s First Amendment is clear that the state is not to support or establish a religion and the courts have ruled in the past that it is not the intent but the perception that counts.

The Supreme Court is made up of fallible humans, those that read and interpret the Constitution as their understanding permits. The long tradition of an invocation prior to a public meeting won over the intent to the perception of a Christian government. The Court was clear on one thing, that the invocation must not proselytize the majority faith or demote other religious faiths, including those of no religion. The discomfort of a few over the invocations was not taken into consideration; that the Constitution and law is meant, in part, to protect the minority from majority tyranny.

This is different than an organized prayer in school whether over the public address system or organized by a teacher. The courts have been clear enough to force public schools, like those in Fayette, Missouri, to stop the practice of morning prayer meetings during school hours. This does not prevent the student or teacher from praying on their own. The perception was that the school was sanctioning the prayer and it was designed to be a Christian prayer only.

The Constitution is a 225 year old document that was written by men with a secular government in mind. Religion is only mentioned twice in the document and both times restricts how religion can be used by the government. It must also be agreed that technology and civil morality has changed greatly in the two-centuries since its writing. That it is up to the courts to interpret the language and the people to modify the document as needed. It is not the position of any church, synagogue or mosque.

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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