"Grant these servants of yours the help they need to guide our community wisely," implored a Catholic priest from the Holy Name of Jesus parish.
"We celebrate your son, Jesus," proclaimed a pastor from Lakeshore Community Church.
"We ask all this through Christ, our Lord," another erstwhile Bible thumping preacher declared in a closing prayer. "Amen."
Are these the perfectly proper activities of groups of pious American people exercising their First Amendment Freedom of Religion rights in churches, private homes and other private religious settings?
No; of course not. These folks are not content to limit the practice their religion privately. They insist on a right to proselytize their creed with the sponsorship, support, initiation and backing of their local municipal governments. They want the government to help them spread their religious messages.
Since 1997, local officials in the southern shore Lake Ontario municipality of Greece, N.Y, population of 96,095, have been opening the town's monthly council meetings with a prayer, usually delivered by a Christian clergyman invited there by the said government officials for that expressed purpose.
This is surely a law school textbook case demonstrating clear violations of the United States Constitution First Amendment Establishment clause, isn’t it? After all, legal precedent has been settled First Amendment law for decades that the doctrine of separation between church and state requires all levels of government, federal, state and local to refrain from conducting religious activities of any nature, sectarian or non-sectarian, while in the course of performing government functions.
But wait a minute; maybe the law is not so settled on this point, at least so far as the United States Supreme Court is concerned.
Two of the town’s residents, a Jew and an atheist, took issue with the municipal religious practices in February of 2008, and sued in a federal court to put a stop to it on the grounds that it plainly violates the Establishment Clause.
A federal district court rejected the plaintiffs' claims but an appellate court overturned the lower court's ruling. So now the SCOTUS is getting into the act and I fear that once again, just as in the cases of the national motto and the pledge of allegiance, the First Amendment Establishment Clause is about to be thrown under the bus.
Remember that, in the tortured logic of SCOTUS, the phrase “In God We Trust” was found to be not a religious reference, and in the pledge case, the court simply dodged the issue altogether holding that the petitioner lacked standing to bring the case.
This time I’ll be mighty surprised if the five justice Catholic religious majority doesn’t find another dubious legalese excuse to worm their way around what was once settled law. Perhaps they’ll find that Jesus Christ is not a religious figure or that prayers offered to a municipal God in heaven are merely ceremonial non-religious activities.
I have to wonder why the SCOTUS would take up such a no brainer type case like this unless the Scalia led religious majority was looking for a vehicle to inject their precious government God firmly back into all levels of government.
I sure hope I’m wrong on this one, but the municipal God argument is shaping up to have a lot of high level government support. In what will be the most important church-state litigation to reach the U.S. Supreme Court in three decades, the normally secular minded Obama administration is actually endorsing the concept of Christian prayers in such government settings.
Lawyers for the Obama Justice Department, representing the federal government, have recently filed amicus curiae briefs arguing that the prayers pose no violation of the Constitution. "Neither federal courts nor legislative bodies are well suited to police the content of such prayers, and this Court has consistently disapproved of government interference in dictating the substance of prayers," posits Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr.
But that is merely dodging the issue. It’s not about the government determining the content of prayers; it’s about the government supporting, sponsoring, endorsing and actually conducting the prayers.
If the Supreme Court gives this practice the OK, next on the agenda will be prayers once again in the public schools. The religious extremists in America are salivating over that prospect. They want to start out on the path to total evisceration of the First Amendment Establishment Clause with our municipal father in heaven.