Is Prayer At The Start Of A Legislative Session Constitutional?

Do prayers opening legislative sessions violate the First Amendment? The Supreme Court is set to decide that issue.


Lost amid the pre and post election coverage this week was news about the Supreme Court’s consideration of one of the first cases dealing with the issue of the separation of church and state that has come before that body in several years. At issue was the practice of the Council of the small New York town of Greece of opening its meetings with a prayer. In and of itself that isn’t unusual, of course. Both the House and the Senate follow the same practice and employ a Chaplain who typically performs that duty, typically assisted by religious officials from outside Congress who come to deliver an opening prayer as guests on a regular basis. The photo above, for example, is of Senate Chaplain Barry Black, previously a military chaplain who had risen to the rank of Admiral, who gained notoriety for some of his opening prayers during the Federal Government shutdown. Most if not all state legislatures follow that practice, and the Supreme Court has previously upheld both the practice of an opening prayer and the idea of a government employed chaplain who performs that duty. The issue in the case before the Court, though, is that the Town of Greece was exclusively opening its meetings with explicitly Christian prayers, to the exclusion of any other religious tradition:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, which begins its sessions with an invocation to God, considered on Wednesday whether a town in upstate New York had crossed a constitutional line in opening its Town Board meetings with mostly Christian prayers. The justices seemed to find the issue unusually difficult, with several of them suggesting there was no satisfactory principled answer.

Justice Elena Kagan, asking the first question, wanted to know whether the Supreme Court could open its sessions with an explicitly Christian prayer from a minister, one acknowledging, for instance, “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.” Such prayers were offered before Town Board meetings in Greece, N.Y., near Rochester.

Thomas G. Hungar, a lawyer for the town, said a 1983 Supreme Court decision allowed Christian prayers in legislative settings, though perhaps not in judicial ones. The decision, Marsh v. Chambers, upheld the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of opening its sessions with an invocation from a paid Presbyterian minister, saying such ceremonies were “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy seemed frustrated with Mr. Hungar’s argument, which relied almost exclusively on the Marsh decision and the history it reflected. “The essence of the argument is that we’ve always done it this way, which has some force to it,” Justice Kennedy said. “But it seems to me that your argument begins and ends there.”

At the same time, Justice Kennedy appeared reluctant to have judges or other government officials decide what prayers are acceptable. Such a practice. he said, “involves the state very heavily in the censorship and the approval or disapproval of prayer.”

Justice Antonin Scalia said prayers in a legislative setting were different from the hypothetical ones in court that Justice Kagan had asked about. “People who have religious beliefs,” he said, “ought to be able to invoke the deity when they are acting as citizens and not as judges.”

Douglas Laycock, representing two women who challenged the prayers in New York as a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion, said there were important differences between the Nebraska case and the new one. The prayers in New York were often explicitly sectarian, he said, and town residents were forced to listen to them in order to participate in local government.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked Mr. Laycock for an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to people of all faiths.

Mr. Laycock said “prayers to the Almighty” and “prayers to the Creator” would be all right

“What about devil worshipers?” Justice Scalia asked.

Mr. Laycock said that “if devil worshipers believe the devil is the almighty, they might be O.K.”

Justice Kagan said the wide-ranging discussion, which included questions about polytheism and atheism, missed the key point. “Isn’t the question mostly here in most communities,” she said, “whether the kind of language that I began with, which refers repeatedly to Jesus Christ, which is language that is accepted and admired and incredibly important to the majority members of a community, but is not accepted by a minority, whether that language will be allowed in a public town session like this one?”

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., like several of the justices, seemed wary of the government distinguishing acceptable prayers from unacceptable ones. “Who was supposed to make these determinations?” he asked.

Mr. Laycock said town officials could simply tell those offering prayers to avoid discussing “points on which believers are known to disagree.”

Ian H. Gershengorn, a deputy solicitor general, argued on behalf of the federal government in support of the town, saying the prayers there were permitted by “our nation’s long history of opening legislative sessions not only with a prayer, but a prayer given in the prayer giver’s own religious idiom.”

That position seemed to trouble Justice Kagan. A resident attending a town meeting was, she said, “forced to identify whether she believes in the things that most of the people in the room believe in.”

Mr. Gershengorn acknowledged that “the strongest argument for the other side” was “that there is an element of coercion.”

Lyle Denniston’s recap is particularly insightful:

[T]he fate of a thirty-year-old precedent, Marsh v. Chambers, was very much at issue in the one-hour hearing Wednesday on Town of Greece v. Galloway(docket 12-696), but its reaffirmation could be the only way to get together a majority after the Justices in coming weeks weigh a dizzying array of alternatives.  If there are any alternatives that were not explored Tuesday, they probably would be too strange for anyone to take seriously.

This case brought the latest jousting among the Justices over the constitutional puzzle that originated in America before the Founding:  how much separation should there be between government and religion?  This time, the puzzle envelops a practice by a New York community’s town governing board of inviting chaplains-for-a-day to say prayers (or something equivalent) to start the monthly meetings.

Marsh v. Chambers is at the center of that puzzle, because it upheld prayers before meetings of a state legislature, and it did so just because the Court said it could trace the practice back to the very first Congress.  But lower courts have found reason to wonder whether Marshshould still be followed, and that is actually what the Court seemed to be pondering Wednesday with three lawyers — one for the suburban town of Greece, N.Y., one for the federal government, and one for two townspeople who protested the prayer ritual.

The town’s lawyer, Washington attorney Thomas G. Hungar, opened by complaining that a federal appeals court had stretched the Marsh precedent out of shape.  Hungar’s legal briefs had made clear that the town’s legal strategy is really dependent upon Marsh’s continuing force.

He had uttered only a few words before Justice Elena Kagan — in a question that actually would represent the hypothetical kind that would dominate the whole session — wondered about the constitutionality if the Supreme Court were to have opened this session with a practice very much like that routinely carried out by the Greece Town Board, complete with direct summonses to a Christian God and to Jesus Christ.

Hungar’s answer was that he didn’t think that would be permissible.  A moment later, Justice Kennedy somewhat impatiently asked why Hungar had conceded the point so quickly.  Why would it violate the Constitution, Kennedy asked.  The lawyer said there was no comparable history for such a ritual at the Court.

Is the practice at issue in Marsh ”just a historical aberration?” Kennedy asked in a quick follow-up.  “What’s the source of the distinction?”  Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., soon asked how far the historical argument would extend, and how the Court would know when to use that as the test.  Other Justices then added new queries about using historical analysis.

And, just a few minutes later, Kennedy suggested that he was not impressed with an argument that “we’ve always done it,” that the argument about government prayer “begins and ends” with whether it was validated by history alone.

By that point, it was strongly tempting to conclude that the Marsh approach was not going to be the judge of the Greece citizen prayers.  But, if not, to what would the Court then turn?  As the Justices quickly discovered, from their own questions from then on, just asking for an alternative is far different from defining one.

Generally, I am a strong proponent of both religious liberty and the idea that the government should not be actively promoting religious faith in a manner that is even potentially coercive. That’s why I think the Court has generally gotten most of its “separation of church and state” precedent correct over the years. It’s clearly improper for schools to be requiring students to engage in prayer of any kind, for example, or to be using school time to teach what is essentially a religious doctrine such as the idea of so-called “intelligent design.” Additionally, explicitly religious holiday displays should be avoided, because it conveys the impression that the government body in question is endorsing the religious beliefs in question. At the same time, one must be respectful of the religious liberty side of the equation and ensure that restriction on state advocacy of religious faith don’t transform themselves into restrictions on the ability of students and teachers to practice their faith as they see it. That’s why independent, student-led prayers outside of the context of official school functions ought to be permitted unless they are somehow disruptive to the educational mission of the school. Similarly, I really don’t see anything wrong with non-religious holiday displays such as Christmas trees and representations of Santa Claus on government property, largely because that part of Christmas is as much rooted in non-religious traditions as it is in the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The overall point is that there is a line that the government cannot cross, but the problem is that figuring out where that line is can often be difficult, as the Court found out yesterday.

Some government practices that reference religion, I would argue, fall into a de minimis category where it’s recognized that some practices are essentially so harmless that they ought to be permitted as a general rule so long as they don’t become overtly sectarian. One example of that is the whole issue of the inclusion of the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, or the appearance of “In God We Trust” on paper currency and coins. As a general rule, there doesn’t seem to me to be anything inherently coercive about either practice. Nobody, including schoolchildren, is legally required to recite the Pledge, and nobody can be legitimately punished for refusing to do so, or for refusing to say “Under God” if they day. Similarly, while we all use coins and paper bills at some point, I doubt anyone pays much attention to what’s written upon them beyond the denomination. Lawsuits challenging both of these practices have been routinely rejected by Federal Courts in no small part because of these facts.

As a general rule, I’d suggest that the idea of opening a legislative session with a prayer falls into this de minimis category in most cases. The prayers that open the House and Senate, for example, are usually fairly general to the point where they can’t be said to be representative of any particular religious tradition beyond, of course, an appeal to a God of some kind. It’s also worth noting, as the Supreme Court did in Marsh, that the practice of opening a legislative session with some kind of prayer has a long history in the United States. Indeed, at one point during the Convention of 1787 when delegates found themselves at an impasse over the drafting of the Constitution, it was Benjamin Franklin, who was, at best, a Deist, who suggested that the body engage in a short prayer. Additionally, the Supreme Court itself opens with the appeal that “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.” Given that history, it seems difficult to argue that those who drafted and ratified the First Amendment intended to ban a practice they themselves engaged in both before and after the Bill of Rights were ratified. Of course, this whole issue becomes arguably problematic when you’re talking about the fact that there are atheists and agnostics in the world, I’m not entirely convinced of the argument that the practice in and of itself is so inherently wrong that it ought to be prohibited for this reason alone. And I say this as someone who considers themselves to be an atheist.

The potential problems with opening prayers, of course, comes when they do become strongly religious or when they only seem to represent one specific religious tradition, as is the situation in this particular case. If a legislative body, for example, is only inviting prayers from Protestant ministers to the exclusion of Catholics, or from Christian ministers generally to the exclusion of Jewish, Muslim, and other traditions that are likely a part of the community, then there would seem to be an explicit promotion of a particular religious faith that violates the First Amendment. How you articulate that rule, though, isn’t easy. What if this is a community that doesn’t really have a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist population? Are they still required to find someone to come in and give an opening prayer anyway? What if someone representing obviously representing a non-serious religion claims they are being discriminated against because they haven’t been invited? How to draw the lines here isn’t easy, and may have to be done on a case-by-case basis.

It will be interesting to see how the Court deals with this case.

Here’s the transcript yesterday’s oral argument:

Town of Greece v. Galloway Oral Argument by dmataconis

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Religion, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Yes…forcing your silly religious superstitions on me is unconstitutional…it violates my first amendment rights. The activists judges on the so-called right won’t see it that way though. For them the 1st is about the right to impose their beliefs on others.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    I would argue that the references to “God” are discriminatory against us polytheists. Now what?

    (OK, I’ll allow you to refer to Elohim, which has a plural ending. Oh, no one noticed about that in the Bible, yet? That it refers to a plural entity creating the heavens and earth? Better learn more Hebrew…)

    I’m not going to be satisfied about non-denominational prayer until someone drags in an ox and does a sacrifice to all the gods that want burnt offerings.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    A prayer to start a legislative meeting – like the singing of the National Anthem prior to the start of a sporting event, or the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools or at public meetings – is unnecessary. I admit though, I do not have strong feelings about these rituals one way or the other.

    Do I believe that it (prayer) should be permitted? I do not believe so, that said, I have not found these simple prayer invocations to be offensive although I’m sure that there are occasions where a prayer could be offensive to many.

    (Full Disclosure: I am a lapsed Catholic)

  4. Dave W. says:

    I thought that Benjamin Franklin only suggested a prayer as a ploy to get the delegates to continue working. Some sort of reverse psychology: “Well, since *we* can’t get it done ourselves, perhaps we should turn to a higher power as we are so incompetent.” Perhaps I am mistaken in that.

    But, it is well known that Mr. Franklin’s suggestion was not passed and many of the delegates thought it inappropriate to do so. This supports the argument that the people who drafted the Constitution (and many of those same people went on to draft the 1st Amendment) did not support prayer in legislative sessions.

  5. ernieyeball says:

    A long time ago at some extended family gathering some kin asked me to say the prayer before we dined.

    Good food, good meat.
    Good god let’s eat!

    Most of the kids giggled. They never asked me again.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @Dave W.: Maybe we should come up with a nice, American, non-denominational prayer we can all use.

    I think a prayer to the god of Football would be appropriate. While tossing McDonald’s fries in the air.

  7. Gustopher says:

    Why can’t the members of the town council practice their religion in a non-official manner? Publically, if they so desire, but simply not as a part of the town council meeting?

  8. Dave W. says:

    @Gustopher: Because when Jesus said

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)

    He really meant the opposite.

    All snark aside, I could never understand the need of Christians to insist that their prayers be made into a public event. Even when I was a Christian I never liked the idea of public prayers as I felt the prayer lost all meaning when it wasn’t given freely by all involved, including Christians.

  9. ptfe says:

    @Gustopher: Indeed, there are several alternatives available:

    1. (Workaround) Local legislative sessions usually start at an appointed hour. Many legislatures recognize the prayer to be unnecessary to the functions of that body but, in order to appease the religious people who might be present, allow a pre-session prayer. Because this does not occur on official time, it’s clearly legal, as it’s a purely citizen-led event.

    2. (Loophole) Legislatures wishing to incorporate this sort of behavior into their official timeline have been allowed to have inclusive prayers. While I think this is a poor alternative, since it makes the “prayer” a part of the legislative agenda, it can also be used to show diversity in the community. But it really needs to show that diversity — i.e. not every prayer should be a display of Christian faith.

    3. (Useful solution) Legislatures wanting to take the non-denominational path have routinely offered moments of silence in which participants can think whatever they want. This should be sufficient for everybody.

    4. (Best solution) Other legislatures have gotten along just fine for decades or centuries without muddying their mission with crazy god-talk. Citizens can already pray wherever and whenever they want, as long as they do it non-disruptively; there’s no need to acknowledge this fact in a legislative session.

    I think it was Ginsburg who made the comment that citizens approach the legislature not as Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or atheists, but as Americans. And I think she’s dead on. Any sanctioned “prayer” has no business in official business. Unfortunately, she’s the minority here, and I don’t think SCOTUS is going to draw a line in the sand; they’ll probably rule against Greece but basically tell them to fix their process.

    Side note: When I see reasonable people say that we need to make sure “restriction on state advocacy of religious faith don’t transform themselves into restrictions on the ability of students and teachers to practice their faith as they see fit”, I cringe. Because teachers and legislators can practice their faith on their own time, but if they can’t distinguish between {their own time} and {their official capacity}, they have no business in these positions.

  10. Dave W. says:

    @grumpy realist: You’d have to throw in a reference to the Founding Fathers or it’d all be for naught.

  11. Scott says:

    @ernieyeball: The kids grace in our house was:

    Rub a dub dub
    Thanks for the grub
    Yeah, God!

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @ernieyeball: Before meals amongst friends, my brother, the Rev. Bruce, would sometimes close his eyes, fold his hands, bow his head, sit silently for several seconds, say “..eight..nine..ten”, and look up. Believe it or not, there actually is Lutheran humor.

    As a good ignostic (I not only don’t know, I don’t care) I use his ploy, silently throughout, on many public occasions. I regard sectarian invocations as somewhat rude, but basically harmless. However, I might see it differently if I were one of a few ignostics defending myself against a town of aggressive Baptists.

  13. ernieyeball says:

    @gVOR08:..Lutheran humor.

    Did I not tell you earlier that a Jew is such a noble, precious jewel that God and all the angels dance when he farts?

    -Martin Luther (On the Jews and Their Lies)

    Well, yeah, sorta’.

  14. the Q says:

    Gee, lets see, who can that dooshbag Scalia turn to on this vexing question?

    How about the “father of the Constitution” himself Mr. James Madison who wrote:

    “Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation.

    The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority] shut the door of worship against the members whose creeds and consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics and Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain? To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the veil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers, or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor.”

    In 2002, the Congress after 200 years finally was set to appoint a CATHOLIC chaplain when Hastert vetoed the recommendation and put in a Protestant.

    Madison foresaw this years ago in the above passage.

  15. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Have to go with Madison via the Q on this one.

    A simple remedy: subject all prayer requests to unanimous consent. Any objections and we move straight on to Morning Business, no harm no foul. Prayers work just as well in the cloak room.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA:

    Prayers work just as well in the cloak room.

    Or in the privacy of your own f’ing house.
    This is another example of Small Government Republicans using Big Government to force their beliefs on others.
    You want to believe in total f’ing nonsense…that’s your right. But keep it to yourself.

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What if this is a community that doesn’t really have a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist population?

    If there’s nobody to take offense, there probably isn’t anyone to sue.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As an aetheist who has religious discussions with Christian friends AND manages to not insult them with my heathen beliefs, I have to say I really just don’t care until somebody tries to cram their religion down my throat. Praying before a council meeting does not come close to that threshold.


  19. C. Clavin says:

    Yeah…I agree…until Scalia gets involved and starts making rules from the bench.
    The last thing we need is the Citizens United version of Separation of Church and State.

  20. SKI says:

    @ernieyeball: My father’s favorite version of that type of prayer:Rub-a-dub-dub, Thanks for the grub. Yaaaaaayyyyy G-d!

    Oops, hadn’t read down far enough to see that this was already contributed. Sorry.

  21. SKI says:

    I really don’t see anything wrong with non-religious holiday displays such as Christmas trees and representations of Santa Claus

    As a non-Christian, this sentiment boggles my mind. These are two symbols that only exist in connection with a Christian holiday. How on earth are they non-religious?!?!

  22. Geoff says:

    I’m not sure I understand the point of a de minimis exception, which seems to cut both ways. If the argument is that these actions are essentially insignificant, doesn’t that imply that they are immaterial to both proponents and non-adherents? And if that’s the case, doesn’t it make more sense to avoid the non-inclusive gesture? Why bother doing them in the first place, if it bothers some people and has no benefit?

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @C. Clavin:

    until Scalia gets involved and starts making rules from the bench.

    Yep, Scalia being the #1 crammer of religious doctrine. I have a rather visceral reaction to his every utterance any more.

  24. grumpy realist says:

    @SKI: Well, considering that the pine tree was swiped from the worship of Atis and December 25 was related to the worship of Mithras….

    The Virgin and Christ Child iconography was swiped from Isis and Horus iconography, and we all know Easter is rehashed Oestre worship….(what, you think eggs and effing bunnies AREN’T fertility symbols?)

    Standard Christianity, always swiping. Supposedly a lot of the traditional Catholic rituals are actually regurgitated Ancient Egyptian rituals, but that was from a very Protestant book of around 1840 so dunno how true THAT is..

  25. Mikey says:

    @SKI: The Christmas holiday, despite its undeniably religious origin, has in many ways lost its specifically religious significance. Everyone in my household is an atheist and we still put up a tree every year. Why? Because we did it when we were kids and it’s fun.

    Also, while Santa does have a Christian origin, I highly doubt the sight of a jolly fat guy in a red suit invokes much Christian thought these days. And the tree is a pagan symbol of long standing (no pun intended).

  26. ernieyeball says:


    Is this some sort of Robot Diety you worship?…You are a Robot are’t you?

  27. rudderpedals says:

    I’d bet 12 bits there aren’t any menorahs in Christian homes, nor any Christmas trees in Jewish homes, nor either of the above in Muslim homes w/ exception of intermarriages. Compare to images of Uncle Sam or the Capitol that are actually secular in that they’re orthogonal to religion, which is proper and the appropriate extent of types of universal symbols IMO….

  28. John D'Geek says:

    @SKI: Christmas was originally exclusively a Christian holiday, but now it’s not. In Japan, for instance, they love celebrating Kurisumasu … You’ll see Santa & gift giving, but don’t bother looking for manger scenes.

    My big problem comes in when minority religions are given “right of display” (i.e. Wiccans during Halloween) but significant religions are not (i.e. Christians during Christmas; Jews during Passover). That’s about as obvious a first amendment violation as there is.

  29. John D'Geek says:

    @the Q:

    In 2002, the Congress after 200 years finally was set to appoint a CATHOLIC chaplain when Hastert vetoed the recommendation and put in a Protestant.

    Maybe I should apply for the job. I’ve been told that Buddhists are more palatable than Catholics & Mormons …

    (only half kidding …)

  30. ernieyeball says:

    My big problem comes in when minority religions are given “right of display” (i.e. Wiccans during Halloween) but significant religions are not..

    Are we talking gov’t sanction or private enterprise endorsement of Wicca like Walmart selling Halloween costumes?

    Maybe we need local jurisdictions to start legislating the official Town Religion so everyone knows where they stand.

  31. anjin-san says:

    the National Anthem prior to the start of a sporting event

    I have always enjoyed the pre game ceremony. On the other hand, I find the recent tradition of signing “God Bless America” at baseball games offensive. We don’t need two mandatory patriotic songs at sporting events.

  32. wr says:

    @rudderpedals: “I’d bet 12 bits there aren’t any menorahs in Christian homes, nor any Christmas trees in Jewish homes”

    You might be right about the menorahs, but there are plenty of Jewish homes with Christmas trees. It’s not only a religious holiday, it’s the dominant secular holiday of our nation as well. My parents went tree-less a few years when I was little, but that seemed like punishing the kids for a religion no one in the household thought much about…

  33. wr says:

    @anjin-san: “On the other hand, I find the recent tradition of signing “God Bless America” at baseball games offensive. ”

    And patriotic sentiments aside, that is simply one of the worst songs ever written. Can’t believe it came from the same man who brought us “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”

  34. OzarkHillbilly says:


    the National Anthem prior to the start of a sporting event</blockquote You do know the last 2 words to the National Anthem, don't you?

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: WTF???

    the National Anthem prior to the start of a sporting event

    You do know the last 2 words to the National Anthem, don’t you?

  36. Grewgills says:

    I have several Jewish friends that celebrate Christmas. One of them puts a star of David on top of his Christmas tree in place of the typical angel or other ornament.

  37. rudderpedals says:

    @Grewgills @wr

    This sounds good. I wasn’t aware that it was happening outside of interfaith marriages. Need to get out more…

  38. Scott O says:

    Play ball?

  39. Moosebreath says:



    Is this some sort of Robot Diety you worship?…You are a Robot are’t you? ”

    More likely a religious Jew, who does not want to put the deity’s name on anything a human may throw away or destroy.

  40. ernieyeball says:

    @Grewgills: Christmas tree

    Are you sure that’s not a Hanukkah Bush?

  41. Ron Beasley says:

    It is alleged that the U.S, is a Christian nation but like me most of the OTB community appear to be agnostics or atheists. I remember when I was drafted in 1968 I was asked what my religion was and when I said none they told me that was unacceptable. I then said I was an Assyrian Agnostic which was OK and that was on my actually on my dogtags. At least the next 20 people in line said they too were Assyrian Agnostics.

  42. Grewgills says:

    Yes, I am certain. The Christmas story he tells his girls is… unique. I will have to send him info on the Hanukkah bush. He’ll get a kick out of it.

  43. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scott O:

    Play ball?

    Nononoooo, They’re “PLAY BALL!!” (gotta get the inflection right)

  44. Rafer Janders says:

    As a general rule, there doesn’t seem to me to be anything inherently coercive about either practice. Nobody, including schoolchildren, is legally required to recite the Pledge, and nobody can be legitimately punished for refusing to do so, or for refusing to say “Under God” if they day.

    Nobody can be “legitimately” punished for refusing to do so — but isn’t it true that people are illegitimately punished all the time, and that their options for justice in those cases extremely limited if not non-existent? Say I go to a town council meeting and refuse to say the Pledge, and the council then denies my petition — did they go it because of the merit of my claim, or to retaliate? If my child refuses to say “under God” in class and the teacher then dislikes my child because of it and gives her less help throughout the school year, what can we really prove or do about it?

  45. Liberal Capitalist says:


    I am an atheist. I am very comfortable in this “belief”.

    Whenever I see stories like this, I am continually amused by the lengths of the twists and turns of logic required to continue to validate, maintain and promote one’s personal religious beliefs in the public and political venue… even with the knowledge that the actions taken are clearly unconstitutional.

    It reminds me of the arguments that some would make in support of slavery in the time pre-civil war.

    Most often, those arguments boil down to: “Because we want to, and we can, because we are the majority”.

    The most irritating part is the wink-wink & backslapping of those who succeed in overcoming (or ignoring) the law. Let’s not forget those who choose to run on a political platform of specifically promoting these unconstitutional ideas.

    I have no solution here. I just know that as part of a minority, I know when I see wrong.

    … Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., like several of the justices, seemed wary of the government distinguishing acceptable prayers from unacceptable ones. “Who was supposed to make these determinations?” he asked.

    Who indeed ?

    How will government validate one god over another… and decide which god is only given 3/5 the the right of a “true” god.

  46. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    If my child refuses to say “under God” in class and the teacher then dislikes my child

    To say nothing of what the other kids in the class might do.

  47. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @John D’Geek: In the same vein: I asked my students about Christmas celebrations in Korea when I first came here to teach. One of my adult students commented “Lotte [department store] Emart, and Home Plus [both Korean versions of WalMart] celebrate Christmas, Koreans, not so much.”

  48. grumpy realist says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: By the way, the story about the Japanese getting the whole thing sideways at the very beginning has been vouched to me by a friend who was living in Japan back in the mid-70s. He claims he saw a Parco Department store poster with, kid you not, a crucified Santa Claus. (He said he realized later he should have ripped it down and run away with it–it would be worth a mint at present.)

  49. SKI says:

    @ernieyeball: Jewish tradition not to actually spell out the full word.

  50. SKI says:

    @grumpy realist: that they are “acquired” traditions doesn’t change the reality that they are distinctively Christian today. It’s called a “Christmas Tree” for a reason.

  51. SKI says:

    @Moosebreath: well, at least one who was religiously educated. :-/

  52. Scott O says:

    @grumpy realist:
    You’re friend may be repeating an urban legend, perhaps even “remembering” it. I thought it was a bit strange that such an image would have appeared in the 70s. In the 50s would have been more believable. Snopes

  53. ernieyeball says: