The Supreme Court is on a roll and not an especially good one in my opinion. (Note to reader: I hail from Philly, the home of really, really good rolls, so I know what I am taking about.) Yesterday, by a 5-4 vote, the Justices allowed Christian prayer at government meetings, saying that we have a tradition in this country of such prayers and that they are largely ceremonial. Well, I can’t argue with point number one, although I will note we have lots of traditions in this country that I wouldn’t brag about — race and gender bias being two that come to mind off the top of my head. As to the court’s second point, I both agree and disagree. I have lived in Atlanta for nine years now and almost every large and public meeting I attend opens with a prayer. That’s just part of life here and frankly, I have never been offended or bothered despite being of the Jewish faith. I am a Rotarian, for example, and we begin each weekly meeting with a prayer. In almost all of those prayers, the person offering words is careful to be inclusive and that’s a nice thing for sure, but even when they are not, it’s never been a big deal to me. One gets used to these things when growing up in a minority religion, or at least I have chosen to get used to them. On the other hand, overly Christian prayers are not, in my view, largely ceremonial. And when sponsored by my government, they are absolutely not ceremonial nor are they harmless.
Imagine for a minute a small town in somewhere USA where the majority of the citizens are Muslim. And the powers-to-be in this small town decide to open their monthly city hall meeting with a prayer to Allah. And imagine the Christians and Jews in the audience being asked to sit quietly by because the right to pray is both historical and ceremonial. Yeah, that would go over well. The truth is that to the majority, it feels ceremonial precisely because they are in the majority. To those in the minority, the exact group the separation of church and state was meant to protect, being required by our government to be subject to prayers to a God and faith in which they don’t believe will never just feel ceremonial. Never.