Once Again, The Supreme Court Upholds Legislative Prayer
The Supreme Court has again ruled that prayers that open legislative sessions are not unconstitutional.
Today, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Town v. Greece v. Galloway, a challenge to the City Council of Greece, New York’s practice of opening each town meeting with a prayer, ruling that the practice was Constitutional notwithstanding the fact that the prayers have, to date, been exclusively Christian:
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a town in upstate New York did not violate the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month” who was almost always Christian.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that divided the court’s more conservative members from its liberal ones, said the prayers were merely ceremonial. They were neither unduly sectarian nor likely to make members of other faiths feel unwelcome.
“Ceremonial prayer,” he wrote, “is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.”
In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government.”
Town officials in Greece, N.Y., near Rochester, said that members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer. In practice, however, almost all of the chaplains were Christian. Some of their prayers were explicitly sectarian, with references, for instance, to “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.”
Two town residents sued, saying the prayers ran afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion. They said the prayers offended them and, in Justice Kennedy’s words, “made them feel excluded and disrespected.”
But Justice Kennedy said the relevant constitutional question was not whether they were offended. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” he wrote.
Justice Kennedy said traditions starting with the first Congress supported the constitutionality of ceremonial prayers at the start of legislative sessions. He added that it would be perilous for courts to decide when those prayers crossed a constitutional line and became impermissibly sectarian.
“To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian,” he wrote, “would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing or approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined all of Justice Kennedy’s opinion, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas most of it.
Justice Kennedy did suggest that some prayers may be unacceptable if offered consistently over time, including ones that “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation or preach conversion.”
Town officials had tried, he said, to recruit members of various faiths to offer prayers.
In dissent, Justice Kagan said they had not tried hard enough. “So month in and month out for over a decade,” she wrote, “prayers steeped in only one faith, addressed toward members of the public, commenced meetings to discuss local affairs and distribute government benefits.”
Lyle Denniston contributes his usual excellent analysis of today’s opinion:
The Court’s majority was divided in the case, but only on how “coercion” is to be defined in a constitutional sense. Three Justices said that test is satisfied if a town’s governing body ordered the public to join in prayer, criticized “dissidents” who did not share the prayer’s beliefs, or indicated that official action would be or was influenced by whether someone did or did not take part in the prayer exercise. That group spoke through the lead opinion, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — long an advocate of the “coercion” approach and long a critic of the “endorsement” test. His plurality opinion was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
Two Justices argued that a “coercion” test would be satisfied only if a local government had actually compelled people to be followers of one faith, such as requiring people to go to religious services or to pay taxes to pay for religious institutions. They spoke through an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia on that point alone.
The four dissenters complained that the new ruling will strike a heavy blow against the nation’s tradition of religious pluralism, and will lead to prayers that will actively promote a single faith’s religious values. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the main dissent, joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Breyer also wrote a dissenting opinion speaking only for himself; that opinion focused more narrowly on the facts in this specific case.
Thus the ruling came out five to four, in favor of the practice in a modest sized town in upstate New York — Greece, which is near Rochester.
Although the lead opinion by Justice Kennedy relied very heavily upon the Court’s 1983 ruling in Marsh v. Chambers, upholding prayer to open sessions of the Nebraska state legislature, the opinion reinterpreted the Marsh decision and, in doing so, enlarged the opportunity to deliver such prayers in explicitly religious content and tone, invoking the deity of a given faith.
The Kennedy opinion flatly rejected an interpretation of the Marsh case that a Court majority had made in the 1989 decision in Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU. In that ruling, over a dissent written by Justice Kennedy, the Court had said that legislative prayer had been upheld in the Nebraska case only because the actual prayers delivered by the chaplain did not have a “sectarian” cast. The majority in Allegheny County was applying, to a Christian crèche on government property at Christmastime, the so-called “endorsement test,” long associated with the writings of now-retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
On Tuesday, Justice Kennedy said that was a misunderstanding of the content of prayers at issue in the Marsh case. And, the Justice went on, that decision stands not only for the proposition that legislative prayer can be upheld because of its long history in American legislative assemblies, but also for the idea that it can be upheld because the Constitution does not forbid “sectarian” prayers in that setting.
The stark difference between the majority opinion in the Allegheny County case and the Court’s new opinion in the Town of Greece case illustrated the progress made by Justice Kennedy toward the Court’s full embrace — although for differing reasons among five Justices who determined the outcome - of the “coercion” test in determining whether a government practice amounted to an “establishment of religion” in violation of the First Amendment.
On the surface, of course, the fact that the town’s opening prayers have almost all been exclusively Christian, and in some cases plainly sectarian, seems like reason enough to hold that the practice is unconstitutional and, indeed, this is a large part of the dissent’s argument as stated by Justice Kagan. However, it’s worth noting that the practice in the town for some time had been to have the prayers conducted by representatives from one of the religious institutions within the town, and all of the religious institutions in the Town of Greece are Christian. There is no synagogue, no mosque, no Sikh or Buddhist Temple. Had the town been regularly inviting non-resident religious leaders to come to town meetings to lead a prayer, and then limited their invitations to only Christians, then this would have been an entirely different case. In a sense, as it had done in its previous legislative prayer case, the majority here relies heavily on the tradition that the town had established with regard to opening prayers. An Establishment Clause absolutist might argue that appeals to tradition aren’t really appropriate in these situations, and perhaps in some sense they are correct, however it strikes me that part of deciding whether a particular government act counts as an “establishment” of religion includes the question of whether it reflects an effort to impose religious faith on people, or whether it is simply a recognition of the community the governmental body in question represents. In that sense, tradition arguably helps to establish that what we’re looking at is more of the later rather than the former. In that case, it isn’t necessarily barred by the Establishment Clause.
There are, quite obviously, limits to what the Court has ruled today. A legislative body that limited its prayers exclusively to one sect of Christianity, for example, would likely be crossing the line. Additionally, efforts to compel people attending the meeting to participate in the prayer in some manner would also be impermissible. As a general rule, though, the practice of opening a legislative session at any level is something that has been around since before the Constitution itself existed. The idea that the First Amendment was ever intended to ban those from taking place simply isn’t supported by history.
I discussed this case back in November when the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case. At that time, I noted that, while I generally am a very strong supporter of religious liberty and the Establishment Clause, there are some government practices related to religion that seem to be so minimal in their intrusiveness that they don’t particularly concern me:
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.
Obviously, this is a policy argument rather than a legal one, but it mostly frames my reaction to today’s decision. The idea of prayer opening a legislative session, or a session of the United States Supreme Court, doesn’t exactly thrill me, but it really doesn’t outrage me much either. Like “In God We Trust” on our money or “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, it is one of those public displays of piety that really don’t mean much of anything and which don’t really impose much of a burden on non-believers. In a nation where the overwhelming majority of people believe in some kind of deity, and in which the overwhelming majority of that group are Christians of one form or another, it is something that is sort of to be expected. Obviously, there are limits to what governments can do to recognize these beliefs, and the Courts have issued many, many rulings on that subject over the years, most of them against the government practice in question. Allowing a short prayer before a town meetings begins business doesn’t strike me as one of the egregious practices requiring a Constitutional bar.
Here’s the opinion:
Ooooh…please bring the sacrificial goat please please please….
This will be, at best, a Pyrrhic victory. It will last until some religious group anathema to the prevailing Christian majority demands their place at the table.
Which is in itself an appeal to a particular religious tradition, that of monotheism. Not all religions, including many of the major world faiths such as Buddhism and Hinduism and the various strains of paganism, believe in or accept the concept of a single god. An appeal to “God” — by itself — is exclusionary and not general.
This is the part of the decision that I find most contemptible, I think. Kennedy weasels out of having to enforce the Constitution by disingenuously asserting that the town cannot be held responsible for the content of the prayers, if they avert their eyes in advance and tape their mouths after the fact. If they invite Jerry Falwell to give the invocation, they’re allowed to be shocked — shocked! — when it turns out sectarian.
(Runner up goes to “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable”, which has to be the most inane and patronizing comment from SCOTUS in a long time…)
Introduce legislation to substitute the word “Allah” for “God” on the money and in the Pledge and then see if most Americans will agree that it doesn’t really mean much of anything and doesn’t impose much of a burden on them….
Indeed, if you say the pledge in Arabic, all the Christians start completely freaking out:
School under fire for replacing ‘under God’ with ‘under Allah’ in Pledge
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” — Matthew 6:5
Doug Mataconis, I introduce you to James Madison, a man who presumably knew a bit more about the First Amendment and its history than you do:
“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 Cong[ress] is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles.”
— James Madison, “Detached Memoranda.”
They must meet in a closet in the Greece Town Hall.
Yeah, but he was outvoted on that.A majority of the “founders” disagreed with him. Live by the founders, die by the founders.
I’m going to agree with Doug ( and presumably) the founders on this issue.
He was outvoted, yes, but there obviously was debate on the issue, it was a source of argument. Doug’s claim that the First Amendment was never intended to ban legislative prayers is over-broad, as obviously some Founders thought that it was. The issue was not as settled as he pretends it was.
Also, too: if the prayers are so vague, non-specific and non-denominational, then what’s the point of having them? If you actually believe in religion, then watering down a prayer to the point where it doesn’t even refer to your particular deity or belief should be fairly useless for the purpose of prayer, if not even downright offensive.
I’m trying to make myself care, but not succeeding.
I believe in no gods, but a prayer opening a city council meeting is so bland and meaningless…”it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
If it’s bland and meaningless, then why have it? If it serves no purpose, then what is its purpose?
To quote from what a friend of mine wrote about this today:
Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that others, equally entitled to citizenship and fair play, can’t see it. I would be mortally offended to have someone pray over my city council meeting “In Jesus’s Name.” It would let me know that people like myself were not considered equal to those belonging to whichever sect was giving the blessing.
It is. It’s also offensive that God is referenced on our money, and I think if Jesus was clear on one thing, it was his ideas on money.
Why, really, do they bother? Presumably these councilmen are upstanding members of the community who attend church and ignore Matthew 6:5-6 then. I don’t understand opening anything with a prayer unless it’s a family occasion (and most of my family is some form of Christian or another, and the atheists don’t give a damn) or, y’know, it takes place in a church.
@Mikey: I’m of almost the same apathy here (my opinion above is not the strongest-held), but I turn the question around and ask, “Why do they care enough to open meetings with a prayer to begin with?”
I hereby offer myself to lead a Pastafarian prayer before meetings. But something tells me they won’t enjoy what I have to say to them….
@Rafer Janders: My position lacks a bit of empathy, I admit. I just don’t see such a prayer–even if closed with “in Jesus’ name”–as remotely threatening, let alone mortally offensive.
But I also know of a Muslim whose son was in a local Cub Scout pack and got so upset at the pack chaplain praying “in Jesus’ name” that he pulled his son out altogether.
Come to think of it, the thing to do is to recruit a few dozen civic-minded Americans of different faiths or lack thereof — Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pastafarian, atheist, Old Norse, Druid, Satanist, etc. — to contact the town and offer to lead a prayer, and then organize a trip to do so before each meeting. I think the city officials would lose their taste for public prayer right about the time of the first Satanist invocation….
@Rafer Janders: There’s no such thing as being “mortally” offended. You can’t be offended to death. Not unless we’re actually in a Lovecraft short story.
@ernieyeball: You were downvoted (not by me) for using the Webster translation. I think.
So, I’m just guessing, but you’ve never had family members or friends hunted down and murdered because of their religion, have you?
@Rafer Janders: Were yours hunted down because a town council caught them not engaging in the opening prayer?
Dude, chill. Not every religious endorsement by government is the end of free thought. The topic of this decision is literally the most boilerplate pablum you can get that has a religious smell to it.
@Rafer Janders: Hyperbole alert!
A bland prayer to open a city council meeting is not going to lead to people being “hunted down and murdered because of their religion.” It’s just not.
No, they were merely hunted down and killed because they weren’t Christian. That in itself was enough to get them beaten to death and buried in a big pit with several thousand other victims.
So yes, I admit, a town council opening prayer had nothing to do with it. It was merely the fact that they were part of a visible religious minority that was purposefully excluded from public life.
This is just about as stupid as the McCutcheon decision. In that case they decided that the only corruption that exists in politics is the direct passing of money from person to person. In this case they decided the only political bias is explicitly expressed bias. The idea that a committee member doesn’t harbor serious political bias against me, for not kow-towing to their superstitions, just because they do not express that political bias…is just friggin’ nuts.
Seriously…are these Republican Justices retarded? Are they suffering from early-onset Alzheimers? These are just nonsensical positions. As one of my clients used to say…That doesn’t even pass the giggle test.
An interesting note from Justice Kagan’s dissent:
“When a person goes to court, a polling place, or an immigration proceeding—I could go on: to a zoning agency, a parole board hearing, or the DMV—government officials do not engage in sectarian worship, nor do they ask her to do likewise. They all participate in the business of government not as Christians, Jews, Muslims (and more), but only as Americans—none of them different from any other for that civic purpose. Why not, then, at a town meeting?”
I think, reasonable people that we are, we can see a town council meeting opening with a [stupid and useless] prayer isn’t quite analogous to violent exclusion from public life that persecutes religious minorities.
Not to pry unnecessarily, but where was it that your friends or family were murdered? I’d like to think this nation doesn’t have roving bands of savage zealots, but no one can be certain.
@Rafer Janders: I once knew a pastor who had been called on occasionally to open city council meetings with a prayer, but then someone gave him a set of guidelines for the opening prayers. After that, he declined any more requests, telling us that he was not going to say some scripted, deodorized, sanitized, generic prayer that was meaningless and designed so as not to offend someone. That is one reason why these public prayers are just a waste of time. You might as well be praying to a drink machine. One alternative would be to just have one minute of silence before the meeting. Now who could argue with that ? It would offend no one.
I recently attended a seminar on todays’ news events and how they correspond to Biblical prophecy. I was surprised, shocked, and amazed at how many of the prophesies in the Bible have been fulfilled and how few are left!
Yes. This de minimis argument would seem top cut with equal force both ways. Why offend your fellow citizens for the sake of a meaningless gesture?
Would it be so hard to drop the prayers? Or failing that, Greece is a suburb 5 miles from the center of Rochester. Do you think the residents of Greece all go to church in Greece? Could they maybe find at least a willing Rabbi in greater Rochester? Possibly even a Buddhist or an atheist?
The life of humanity is filled with bland and meaningless things. Most of us generally just tolerate these things and move on.
You’ve probably done six bland and meaningless things before breakfast,(or at least lunch) as have I.
@gVOR08: My idea that would make everyone happy would be to have a moment of silence before the meetings. People can meditate, pray in silence. plan, or gather their thoughts. This is often done now in schools and it seems to get everyone calmed down before the lessons start. A little silence never hurt anything. Maybe we need more of that, especially on the boob tube!
Right…even a broken clock is right twice a day. (more if you set it to 4:20)
40 days and nights of rain, people rising from the dead, virgin mothers, parting oceans, an infinitely old and infinitely powerful and omniscient being…it’s twue, it’s twue, it’s twue…
What are they preying for…more little boys to rape?
The Chief Justice from the Alabama Supreme Court is clear about what we should be doing:
Freedom of Religion means the freedom to impose your religion on others.
Myths and superstition should not be part of our Government.
Not many, not lately. However, it was not all that long before the Founders were making their decisions that we had:
That was 1692, and one of the hanged was my wife’s direct ancestor.
Frankly, banal nondenominational (but clearly Christian) invocations at public events wouldn’t bother me, if it weren’t for the Judge Roy Moores of the world. He is proof positive not only that there are those who are eager to assert a preferred State religion, but that there are multitudes prepared to vote for them and that agenda. Under those circumstances, I feel that vigilance is called for. Slippery slope arguments are valid when there is someone at the top of the slope prepared to push.
As I said on Facebook, some atheist heads were going to explode over this. As usual most of them are off base on the ruling, or it’s meaning.
Have to say, the Court did well today, based on this ruling atheists and many on the left see them a right wing bunch of nuts. But based on the refusal to take the NJ Concealed Carry case the real right wing nuts think the court is a bunch of liberal pansies.
Just how it should be.
Sure, but then I don’t demand that the city council open its meetings with a ceremonial scratching of my armpits.
Intellectually at least, the prayer proponents are in a tough position: in order to pass constitutional muster, they have to claim that the overall effect of their prayers is as non-sectarian, bland and meaningless as possible.
But if it’s so bland and meaningless, then why do they fight to keep it? What purpose does it serve? If on one hand we have a bland meaningless ceremony, and on the other a minority whom that ceremony makes feel excluded from their democracy, then why not just get rid of it?
So a dude in Alabama talking about Christianity being the sole religion covered by the Constitution concerns you because the Supreme Court has ruled that banal, nondenominational drek like opening a town council meeting with a prayer isn’t unconstitutional? And this ends up with non-Christians getting murdered by mobs being a real concern of ours? We accuse conservatives of paranoia all the time, but this, this doesn’t strike anyone as overtly paranoid? Citing incidences three hundred years old? Because it’s not the dude ready to push, it’s just how gigantic the slope is that you’ve constructed which worries me.
Let me just state again I agree wholeheartedly they shouldn’t even be opening the council meetings with stupid prayers, and that I disagree with the Supreme Court’s reading of the establishment clause here. But that doesn’t mean we can use paranoia-induced sloppy argumentation to advance the point that they’re wrong. That makes one no better than Fox News.
Full disclosure…. I grew up in Greece, and my current stack of sticks is about two miles off the Greece town line. For reasons I won’t get into here, I have been involved with Greece town government for decades.
That said, where are the calls for accepting these repeated rulings as “settled law”?
I mean, wasn’t it just a short while ago that we were told Obamacare was the law of the land and we shouldn’t be challenging it? (Leaving aside, of course, the challenges to the second amendment brought by the same folks arguing that Obamacare was “settled law”, brought, interestingly, by the same folks telling us to stop challenging Obamacare)
It strikes me as fitting that the announcement of this ruling comes so close on the calendar to the National Day of Prayer.
We now return you to the attacks on public expressions of belief, already in progress.
It is tough being repressed isn’t it.
It is settled now…that doesn’t make it right.
As for Obamacare…you and your cult have been wrong about it on every single point.
Well… You’re wrong on everything.
What’s that like???
I’d argue that it’s a minute wasted when we could be addressing the business before the body.
Does anybody honestly doubt that if the board had been asking the local Imam to say prayers each week for the past year, and the Christians were upset about it, the Supreme Court result would have been far different?
Not any time soon, no — though Christian history is certainly full of such behavior. I’m much more immediately concerned with non-Christians not getting equal treatment under the law, which seems almost certain. By knowing just how extreme the worst historical offenses have been, we can see how likely are less extreme (but still unacceptable) discriminations.
Amen. (or if you prefer, Bingo).
Slippery slope arguments are bullsh!t. They are so when conservatives argue that Obamacare is the first step down the road to Stalinism and they are so when liberals argue that prayers at a city council will lead to the return of the Spanish Inquisition.
PRO TIP:If the slippery slope argument is the best argument for your position-its time to reconsider your position.
FACT: Congress has opened every session with a prayer since the beginning of Congress, yet somehow there have been no mandatory witch burning laws.
And when such discrimination happens , I am all for vigorous prosecution of such discrimination. What we learn from history is that we can learn from history. We are in no danger at this point of of a revival of medevial Christendom or of seventeenth century Puritanism. Let’s not obsess about unlikely possibilities.
The majority is so full of it with all of that “atheists can just leave the room” crap. Let’s analyze that a bit.
You’re just an average schmoe who goes to the town council to put forward a petition or to request some sort of redress from the town council. You’re an atheist. A priest walks up to the front and leads the entire council and crowd in an overtly Christian prayer, which all other attendees participate in.
Do you really think that the rest of the crown won’t notice you get up and walk out of the room? Do you really think that you’re going to get a fair hearing from everyone, since you’ve just announced yourself as an outsider and not one of them? Maybe some of the councilors can do their job and put that aside, but if you were the petitioner, how would you feel about your chances?
The whole point here is that, no, the prayer doesn’t harm atheists or Jews or Buddhists in any real sense itself. But what it does is that it marks you as an outsider, and if nothing else, it makes you feel like the rest of the community considers you an outsider and an other. And I would be very worried about getting a fair hearing on whatever business I’m there for.
Right…and the Justices argument that unless the council explicitly say you are not going to get a fair hearing, then you are in fact getting a fair hearing…is absolutely retarded.
Most of these town councils are cluster-fvcks to begin with. Giving them another excuse to exercise their petty BS is stupid.
Spanish inquistion? No. Potentially a major pain in the arse. Definitely.
But this, the prayer opening council meetings, IS the discrimination. As Ben notes above, in order to petition her elected representatives at a council meeting, a non-believing or dissenting citizen of the town of Greece must now either (a) subject herself to sectarian Christian prayer or (b) leave the room and mark herself as an outsider.
And as Justice Kagan notes, I don’t have public officials forcing prayer on me when I renew my driver’s license or mail a package at the post office or call 911 or file my taxes or attend a concert in the city parks or go through TSA screening at the airport — why must it then be forced on me at one of the most intimate and vulnerable moments a citizen has, when I’m directly addressing my elected representatives for help with a problem?
He’s not just “a dude in Alabama.” He’s the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
No, we’re not. But we are in danger of, as just one example, a town council ruling against a petitioner because they didn’t appreciate the way that filthy atheist refused to participate in the opening prayers. That’s a very real and very credible danger, and let’s not pretend that something like this doesn’t happen every day already.
I asked above if Mikey had ever had his family members or friends hunted down and murdered because of their religion, but my point wasn’t that this is likely to happen in present day America. My point was that if you have had this experience, if you’re a member of a religious minority that’s been hated and feared and hunted and oppressed, you’re going to be far, far more sensitive to the dangers of the government engaging in overt, sectarian religiosity and all it can entail, and you’re going to feel far more alienated from your own government when it does so.
Did you just describe petitioning a city council as one of the most intimate and vulnerable moments a citizen has, as opposed to a TSA screening at an airport?
@Rafer Janders: And this town council meeting is in New York. The two don’t intersect unless he, God forbid, somehow gets to the United States Supreme Court, but I imagine his nomination would be bitterly contested by Democrats as it should be. (cf. Robert Bork)
I did. Going through TSA screening is a fairly routinized experience, and everyone knows what to expect. But when you’re at a town council meeting, you have to stand up in front of everyone, introduce yourself by name, speak in public, and ask the council members for a very specific set of remedies.
I don’t worry that much about my interactions with TSA Agent Bob, who doesn’t know me from Adam and will never see me again. I do worry about my interactions with Council Member Bob, who may know me and my family and friends and employer personally, whom I have to deal with for years, and whose decisions may affect my property prices, my zoning, my trash pickups, my street lighting, and my business permits and licenses.
Well, thank God then that there aren’t any intolerant Christians in upstate New York!
Let’s tackle this hypothetical head-on, because this seems to be the recourse to sanity you’ve both proffered. First, you’re presuming that the city council is paying attention to the spectators during the prayer, looking for people not praying. In my experience, and the experience of other people who go to city council meetings, the city council is not paying attention to you unless you’re at the podium addressing them or somehow making a spectacle of yourself. I realize that’s anecdotal, but I find it a stress on my reasoning to imagine other situations in which you can be noticed or called out for disrupting a city council.
Second, you are presuming the atheist in this hypothetical doesn’t have other ways of avoiding the prayer, or presenting the false choice that he has to pray (or pretend to, the two don’t really look any different) or has to somehow flagrantly and obviously not participate. The smart person, it seems to me, would pull out a phone and engage in a hushed conversation while making his way out, deflecting any possible religious criticism. You could then claim that he couldn’t do this at every town council, which leads to my third point.
Third, you’re now presuming that the atheist getting discriminated against for not participating in an opening prayer (which, as I remind you, participation and pretending to participate don’t look at all different and require no extra effort in either route) goes to multiple city council meetings (so the cellphone excuse becomes infinitesimally more unlikely). At which point your hypothetical opens up to include characterizations of the kind of person who goes to multiple city council meetings.
I’ve been to multiple city council meetings as part of a political science course on city government, and the kind of people who showed up to more than one meeting were not people the city council liked. They often had reputations for rabble rousing over the most trivial matters that, for some reason, they felt the need to bring to the council’s attention. The other kind of person who attends city council meetings is someone with a pet issue they feel the need to bring up over and over regardless of its relevance to city business. You’re not presuming an Innocent Atheist Caught By Circumstance anymore, you’re presuming An Irrepressible Jackass.
Now, the Irrepressible Jackass (who can be of any faith or creed, irrepressible jackassery does not discriminate) deserves equal protection under the law just like anyone else, but if you’re making the argument that the Irrepressible Jackass’s rights are being infringed by an opening prayer he does not agree with, you have to understand that your claims that he will be discriminated against because of his refusal to pray will be diluted by all the other reasons the city council will discriminate against him.
Now, this could very well be a strawman of your position, but this is how my experience parses your hypothetical when it meets reality. Your hypothetical is perfectly sound in the same way as the hypothetical of voter fraud that conservatives use to advance restrictive and disenfranchising voter ID laws.
A hypothetical case of discrimination isn’t actually discrimination. Let’s wait until there’s an actionable case of this first before we go around imposing restrctions.
If this is happening every day, then by all means present some evidence of it happening. This should be an easy task.
So the excercise of First Amendment rights should be restricted because someone might feel alienated? Do you want to follow that line of thought to its logical conclusion?
@Rafer Janders: Yes, let’s only deal with the ideal experiences of either one. You do realize not everyone flies around the country as part of their business, right, and they don’t deal with the same TSA agents each time? In the same vein, someone who approaches the city council might not be appealing the same councilmen the next time?
And they say that left-wing people all think alike. Look at this internal debate, conservatives! You need to be having this!
Sorry, it’s just I’ve found myself disagreeing with people I almost always agree with often lately.
1.) If this prayer wasn’t a big deal and the councilors didn’t really care, then why have they defended this case so vigorously all the way up the Supreme Court? Obviously it IS important to them, and they are emotionally invested in holding these prayers. And that being the case, then yes, I think they’d notice (and care) if someone ducked out to avoid the prayer. Especially if it’s someone who’s due to present business before the council that day.
2.) So you’re saying that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect an atheist, or someone of a non-Abrahamic religion, to either mock-participate in a prayer or put on a fake act to avoid it, all so Christians can sit there and feel good about themselves for forcing their whole town to go through with this charade? Is this really what is meant by the First Amendment? As long as you are not explicitly forced to say the sacraments, then it’s ok?
3.) It would be next to impossible to prove that this is the specific reason that a petition or other request was denied. For the same reason that it’s almost impossible to prove the intent behind wrongful termination or job discrimination. Only an absolute idiot would get caught giving the real reason for an action like this. The evidence you are asking would be almost impossible to provide, even if this was occurring all the time.
And one more thing, since you’re whipping out personal anecdotes on town council meetings, allow me to do the same. I’ve probably been to 5 or 6 in my life. Not a single one of them had more than 10 people there besides the councilors, and it’s usually in pretty damned small room. It would be nigh impossible for everyone to fail to notice someone getting up and leaving the room in the middle of a speech.
As for your “pretend you have a phonecall” plan: Yes, that is certainly something that one could do. But should you be expected to do that? Either lie, fake-pray, or make a spectacle of yourself? That passes constitutional muster?
“I’ve probably been to 5 or 6 in my life. Not a single one of them had more than 10 people there besides the councilors, and it’s usually in pretty damned small room. It would be nigh impossible for everyone to fail to notice someone getting up and leaving the room in the middle of a speech.
As for your “pretend you have a phonecall” plan: Yes, that is certainly something that one could do. But should you be expected to do that? Either lie, fake-pray, or make a spectacle of yourself? That passes constitutional muster?”
This. I’ve been to far more, as earlier in my career I handled some zoning matters which required this (as well as being to more than a few on my own behalf in recent years). Calling attention to myself in a negative way when representing a client was not going to work, so I always fake-prayed, and never liked it, especially when the prayer specifically invoked Jesus in a manner which made it very clear they assumed everyone in the room was a Christian.
The township where I live has a moment of silence, which works far better.
Who has as much authority in the other 49 states as my fluffy little cat.
Not recently, although I can trace my geneaology back to a group of Huguenots who had to flee France. But then I think nearly every American probably has some sort of religious persecution in their distant ancestry.
I’m an atheist. For a lot of people, we’re less popular than cancer. Trust me, I know all this.
I just don’t see much of a threat, or the start down a slippery slope, of a pro forma prayer before a town council meeting. Why is it there? Good question. Probably because old habits die hard.
We’re heading the other direction, anyway–religiosity is dwindling, even in America, although the noisy ones make it seem otherwise.
How exactly does the First Amendment apply to speech on behalf of a government?
Heh, I had the same thought…
Indeed I think they do care. I think they believe their First Amendment rights are being violated for no good reason. As such I think they are acting in good faith.
No I think that an atheist should just sit down and wait while those stupid Christians perform their crazy ritual, then pursue his business, secure in the knowledge that he is the bigger man for humoring those fools. How about taking that tack on things?
In many federal courts, clerks begin by reciting the Oyez. Here is the text:
Now during the Oyez,lawyers, clients, and court personnel of all faiths just sit and wait for it to be over. No one thinks its a big deal, and then the court just proceeds.
Another option? Wait outside the council room and come in after the prayer is over.
And yet such cases are brought and won. Often, people talk and in fact are that stupid.
This. This is precisely the same thing I say to Christians who claim “religious persecution,” like the case of an atheist org that reserved a small town’s commons for Christmas before the Christians could and didn’t let them put up a nativity scene. (can’t for the life of me find the damn article with Google) And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over it, and I couldn’t get over how dumb the whole spectacle was. The pushback to a meaningless invocation displayed in this thread is of the same kind, and to me is such a waste of time.
I mean, I have no horse here. I think they’re all wrong: the council for having the prayer, and the plaintiffs for feeling offended that there’s a prayer. (And that’s been my position from the beginning.) It’s all such idiocy and false sensitivity. Hell, if the first vigorous pushback in this thread had been how towns shouldn’t be “persecuted” by atheists for having an opening prayer, I probably would’ve argued against that.
When nearly three out of four people identify as Christian, this is a bad assumption? I don’t like it either, but I don’t have illusions about why they might.
They shouldn’t even have the moment of silence. Waste of city time.
Basic human instinct? The moment someone comes in saying you can’t or shouldn’t do something, your first response isn’t to immediately agree with their principled reasoning, it’s to push back like a dumb herd animal. Back that up with maybe decades of tradition doing it, and you suddenly feel like you’re a defender of the faith!
Not to mention how many outside organizations got involved. Look at the list of amici curiae filed in this case. It’s not hard to presume some gave financial backing for court costs on both sides.
Or as long as you’re not explicitly forced to perform specific rituals that require more than bowing your head. Dude, there are self-professed Christians who don’t believe in any of it, and they fake-pray and lie their way through it. You think I’d have a problem with avowed atheists doing it just to make a good impression? It’s such a small little hypocrisy that it doesn’t hit anywhere on the radar. What I can’t understand are atheists having problems doing it.
I recall a rebellious streak in my youth, in high school right around when Iraq was starting to turn sour, when I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning with the rest of the class. But I still held my hand to my heart, I just didn’t say the words. I was never called out for it, I was never ostracized, my grades didn’t suddenly plummet. That minor ritual of civic religion we force kids to go through was so easily and effortlessly subverted, and it possessed the same marginal importance that opening invocations at town council meetings have.
I actually got in trouble for that with a friend going through a super-patriotic phase who tried to get me to recite the pledge in front of him at my house in front of an American flag, which I refused to do. I argued him down along the same lines as I have argued here: it’s a dumb ritual that doesn’t mean anything.
“When nearly three out of four people identify as Christian, this is a bad assumption?”
If there are more than 4 people in the room whose religion you don’t know, yes it is.
If nearly 75% self identify as any group then assuming 100% of people in the room are in that group is indeed a bad assumption. That there were complaints confirms that it was indeed less than 100%.
I suppose ‘bullied’ to better describe what the left has been doing in these cases.
@DrDaveT: I suppose the debate should start over what is being conserved…. the government, or the culture that gave life to said government to be its servant.
@Eric Florack: Then in that case we should be sacrificing a white heifer to Apollo. Or something. It’s the Greeks who came up with democracy, not those crazy people running around the desert praying to Jehovah.
I’ve been having a hard time formulating exactly why these (not especially) nonsectarian prayers — and the insistence that they in no way harm adherents of other (or no) religion — bother.
I can always trust Eric to help make it clear. This, @Tillman — this is what the nonconformists are up against. The smug, ignorant, blithe assumption that not only is America a Christian nation, but that its Christianity is what makes it America. And that, by extension, non-Christian (much less anti-Christian) affiliations are un-American. Treasonous, even.
If this were the mindset of a few fruitcakes, it wouldn’t matter. But it isn’t. It’s pervasive, pernicious, and making the lives of non-Christians a little bit harder every day. For the State to uphold that as perfectly fine is intolerable.
Having been raised a Baptist, I find that it helps me to see this issue more clearly if I translate it into a different domain. Say, by imagining that the invited presenter of the opening statement is a known white supremacist, or an Imam who advocates strict Sharia, or an outspoken eugenicist. Would a black man, or a woman, or the parent of a Downs child, feel justified concern that the local government has chosen such a spokesperson — regardless of what that person chooses to say on this particular occasion?
But the tide is overwhelmingly AGAINST that.
This, again, is undeniable: The Great Decline: 60 years of religion in one graph
If there’s a slippery slope, America is sliding rapidly down it…to secularism.
I believe the same thing is true of attitudes toward homosexuality — but that doesn’t mean I’m OK with discrimination today, on the grounds that it’s dying out.
If Roy Moore can still get elected, it’s going to be a while before this isn’t a problem worth worrying about. And no, Alabama is not culturally unique in this regard.
To put it another way: if I were Jewish, how many decades of toleration would it take to defuse the memory of centuries of pogroms and ghettos and apartheid, recently tempered to decades of contemptuous public discrimination?
So a relatively recent phenomenon of retrenchment among the Christian right?
You’re talking about loud voices representing a minority, not an honest, overbearing majority frowning on and discriminating against a minority. It’s the same thing when some Christians complain about the New Atheists, who are not representative of the majority of atheists.
You think? I’m not so sure. As I said, I was raised Baptist — I’ve met a whole lot of people who really truly think the way I characterized things above. I don’t think it’s recent, either — I think what’s recent is that there are enough obvious non-Christians in public life that this subculture’s immune system has been triggered.
We’ve elected a black man as President, and we may soon elect a woman — but we are nowhere near electing an avowed non-Christian as President. Don’t you think that’s telling? These people may be a minority, but they are powerful and relatively coherent minority. Republicans are a minority, too, but that doesn’t make them negligible. Or harmless.
Um, the government as an entity doesn’t have First Amendment rights.
You do realize that he has some authority in his state, right? That the Court’s ruling will apply in Alabama as well? That not all citizens of Alabama are devout Protestant Christians?
I mean, this is just idiocy: “Oh, it’s OK, he’s only discriminating in Alabama!!” as if Alabamians weren’t also Americans….
@Rafer Janders: That wasn’t my point, and it’s not “idiocy” just because my actual point sailed over your head.
@Rafer Janders: I mean, look at the comment of yours to which I was replying:
Which is, of course, significant to Alabamans. (Alabamians?) And he bears close watching in that context.
But to the other 309 million Americans, he is “just ‘a dude in Alabama.'” He has no more significance to, or authority over, them than you or I.
Now, if something he does makes it to SCOTUS, this will no longer be true. Is that what you are getting at? Because on that point we’d agree.
I may have stated it in-artfully (wrongly, if you prefer) but my main point stands. The First Amendment isn’t a shield against being exposed to offensive speech, even if the speech is a ceremonial prayer by a city council employee.
Justice Kennedy put it this way:
Now this may be a bitter pill for those atheists who feel that exposure to people praying is offensive, but there it is.
I’ll point out that even the dissent does not argue that ceremonial prayer should be prohibited. They hold that ceremonial prayer is constitutionally permissible: they just argue that the prayers must reflect a diversity of traditions.
If he were unique in his views, or if Alabama were unique in its electorate, this would be a telling point. But the point of mentioning Moore isn’t Moore per se — it’s that there are people like Moore out there who get elected to positions of authority.
Not really. That line of thought assumes progress is an inevitability, that we naturally will develop towards social tolerance and equality as our communication and information infrastructure becomes faster and more sophisticated.
The public face for many Christians is polemical stuff like the New Atheists because, like the Christian Right is for nonbelievers, they’re a small minority with a loud voice. If our discourse is dominated by loud voices, as it increasingly seems to be to me, statistics alone about people’s religious self-identification would prohibit an atheist gaining high office. This is the era of atheism’s political flowering (not flourishing, but it is becoming increasingly accepted), and 3 out of 4 still identify as not only religious, but Christian (wide-ass designation that that is). On the flip side, Bush 43 is debatably the only “Christian Right” chief executive we’ve had, and his tenure was so poisonous that Rick Santorum couldn’t get establishment support for a bid last time around. The Christian Right hasn’t done itself any favors since then.
I don’t see how raising ruckus about meaningless prayers furthers atheism’s flourishing. It is needlessly confrontational. Show me actual discrimination or top-down suppression of atheists and I’m right there with you condemning it, but small stuff like this just makes everyone look bad.
@DrDaveT: Even as examples of a wider pattern, Moore and those of his mindset are clearly in the minority. It may seem otherwise, but that’s just the availability heuristic talking. Religious belief in America is dropping like a cannonball would from orbit.
You are aware that this is a traditionally cyclical phenomenon, right? That there have been a succession of “Great Revivals” and “Great Awakenings” and “Spirtual Rebirths” since the nation was founded?
At any rate, it seems we disagree over a matter of fact — i.e. just how many people with beliefs like Moore’s are there in the US — rather than a matter of interpretation. Since neither of us has a credible data source to hand, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.
Awwww, bless your heart.
I thought I just did, but apparently you interpreted my comments in some other light.
Translation: despite the long-time and recent overt hatred of and discrimination against blacks by the majority of Americans, we are now at a point where a black man can be elected President. Despite the long-time and overt denigration and dismissal of women in positions of authority, we are now at a point where nobody bats an eye at the idea that our next President could be female.
And yet — despite your claim of no significant discrimination going on — we are not at a point where a candidate who was overtly atheist, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Wiccan, would have any chance at all of being elected. To me, this seems an important fact, and indicative of probable ongoing discrimination on smaller scales as well. If America collectively mistrusts non-Christians even more than they collectively mistrust blacks and women in authority, that’s pretty striking.
I don’t see what ” assum[ing] progress is an inevitability” has to do with any of that; it’s a statement about where we are today compared to where we were recently, not about where we will be tomorrow or how inevitable that is. I am completely missing your point there; it seems like a non-sequitur to me.
In the country as a whole, yes. In some areas of the country, including most of the old confederacy and pockets in the mid west and mountain west, no.
@Grewgills: True, but we’re talking about the country as a whole, aren’t we? I mean, this is a SCOTUS decision we’re discussing.
and the least likely of those to be elected is the atheist. Virtually every single time that my or my wife’s lack of belief comes up we are asked by believers how we can be moral without religious belief. When we visit family in Alabama only those we know well and trust are privvy to our lack of faith because we don’t want to be hectored. Don’t get me wrong, the hectoring would be with the best of intentions, to save our souls and all, but it is a pain in the ass we want to avoid. As a Christian or any religious person it is easy to be blind to this. The very nature of privilege and bigotry ensures that the privileged are generally blind to their privilege and the bigoted are blind to their bigotry.
Yes, but not only. Moore and his ilk are a minority in the country as a whole, though I don’t think the minority is as small as you seem to think it is. What is problematic is that his lot are very politically motivated and they have a sympathetic audience in tea party and other conservative circles. They are part of the republican big tent and their influence their is outsized.
@DrDaveT: Yes, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to count up the number of “Roy Moores” in America, and as @Grewgills correctly points out, they’re not evenly distributed.
In the aggregate, however, religious affiliation in America has trended downward since the 1950s and that trend has accelerated in the last 10-15 years. There may well be a tipping point beyond which religious views among Americans become similar to those in Western Europe.
I don’t think anyone is going to be sued or prosecuted for discriminating in an election which candidate to vote for based on religious faith. If an atheist candidate can’t make a case to further himself despite his nonbelief, that is on his head. Unlike race or gender, the two examples you use, [ir]religious belief is not determined by birth. Even more relevantly, it is (in most cases) not apparent. [Ir]religious belief is similar to sexual orientation in this regard.
This is not actual discrimination that penalizes someone for the [lack of] faith they profess, unless you think losing an election counts as an infringement on someone’s rights.
Your comparison was to two other groups that were historically discriminated against and aren’t as much now, compared to atheism now. And you asked if I thought it was telling. I don’t, because I don’t see progress towards social equality as inevitable, nor do I see comparisons of discrimination become less over time for some groups as indicative that it should for others.
I probably misread you there though.
@Grewgills: Identifying the political motivation is key, because that is something the Christian Right has over the Christian Left in general as well. I’ve wondered about atheist political action committees and the like, but it seems to me there isn’t much of a unifying culture to atheists beyond non-belief. There are barriers to forming an effective political movement there.
I’ll admit I haven’t been diligent in researching this.
“You can’t be President, just because you’re an atheist” is not actual discrimination? Really? I think we have different dictionaries.
Yes, my comparison was to two other groups that were historically more discriminated against than atheists, but apparently are now LESS discriminated against, by at least one key metric. I still don’t see what you think that has to do with believing in inevitable social progress or not, or how that is relevant. I honestly don’t. Can you unpack it for me?
You seem to be saying that it’s no big deal if being an atheist or a Jew is enough to disqualify you from Presidential candidacy; that’s somehow not discrimination, and furthermore is not evidence of any widespread aversion to atheists and Jews in contexts other than Presidential elections. Am I summarizing your position correctly there? I ask because it makes no sense to me.
I think you did, but I’m still trying to figure out what you think I was claiming. When you say “it should for others”, do you mean ‘should’ as in ‘will’, or ‘should’ as in “ought to”?
I think I’m saying something much simpler than what you are attributing to me. All I’m saying is that discrimination against blacks and women is widely recognized to be an ongoing problem, despite the advances we have made. And yet, non-Christians would seem to be even more sharply discriminated against in at least one high-profile way — a way that is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg, that being the way of prejudice — but you don’t think that’s the same kind of problem. Why not?
I’m saying the metric of “whether you’ll elect generic Christian, Jew, or atheist to be president” is a crappy analogue if you’re arguing about discrimination of someone’s First Amendment rights. No one has a right to be elected to the Presidency.
Or have we moved from discussing that problem to general discrimination against atheists now?
@Mikey: No, there is a major change in the Christian church landscape, an “Reformation” if you will, as important and very similar to Martin Luther’s effect on the church of the middle ages. What is happening is that people are leaving the mainline denominations by the millions, fed up with heavy handed bureaucracies that want ever more money for bloated administrations and the major denominations leaving the doctrine of Biblical authority, not man’s authority. So what are these people doing ? Where are they going? Most are going to independent churches that follow Biblical teachings and preach the Gospel . Many of these independent churches do not keep membership numbers. People today are looking for a close, spiritual experience with Jesus. They look for a relationship, not a religion. Young people want the church teachings made clearer, not watered down. New, independent churches around here are growing, expanding, and building again. Today’s Christian church is indeed going through a Reformation, a rebirth: vibrant, energetic, and excited about the Gospel !
Are you saying that it isn’t actual discrimination unless you can be prosecuted for it? That isn’t a reasonable standard.
So, if a black candidate couldn’t make the case to further himself despite him being black 100 yrs ago in America that was on his head? Even though the majority of the populace would reject him out of hand because of his ethnicity, it’s on his head?
So, by this logic it would follow that there is no actual discrimination against homosexuals, Jews, etc.
That a majority of people in this country will not vote for someone based purely on lack of religious faith is indicative of bigotry against the non-religious. Surely you see this. That a majority think that it is reasonable to subject their fellow citizens that do not share their faith to a demonstration of that faith at government meetings doesn’t make it non-discriminatory. That most of that same majority would be spitting mad if every such meeting were opened with a Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, or Animist prayer is also telling. When it’s their prayer we should sit down and shut up because it’s tradition. If it’s someone else’s prayer, well they should sit down and shut up because… reasons.
I think you are looking at what is happening in your, I’m guessing rural and southern, area then projecting that more widely than what is actually happening in society as a whole.
OK, you’ve lost me completely. I thought this was a thread about whether or not government endorsement of explicitly Christian beliefs/values/etc. was Constitutional. Where did “discrimination against someone’s First Amendment rights” creep in?
I don’t know what you mean by “generic Christian, Jew, or atheist”. The current situation is not about generic types, it’s about individuals. Bob would be a viable candidate, except that Bob is a Jew/Wiccan/atheist, and so cannot win.
I thought that was where we started…
From the post at the top of this thread…
You are the one who introduced “electability to the Presidency” as a measurement of discrimination against non-believers, analogous to discrimination against blacks and women. I’ve been saying it’s not analogous and indicative in the same way.
Do you have specific examples of Christian, Jewish, and atheist candidates for president? What’s not to get?
Not voting for someone based on a criterion like “religious affiliation,” and subjecting someone to a prayer at a town council meeting despite their religious affiliation, are two different forms of discriminatory behavior. You can’t criminalize people’s votes. Or are you suggesting we make it a crime to use certain standards of evaluating politicians at the voting booth? In your ideal world, would all the people who voted against Barack Obama because he was black be prosecuted? People unwilling to vote for an atheist don’t necessarily turn around and say atheists have to join in prayer with them at all civic functions.
Did I say otherwise somewhere? I’ve said people being unwilling to elect an atheist president doesn’t translate to general bigotry against atheists. I didn’t say general bigotry against atheists doesn’t exist.
I’m guessing the word “actual” has been conflated with “all” here.
To put it differently, it’s the only standard we can put into law. By that it’s reasonable. Not everything wrong can be made illegal.
Um, Tillman, I think you’re resorting to straw men in your arguments here.
@Tillman: OK, I get the First Amendment thing. I was distracted by the freedom of speech argument introduced upthread,
And this is the part I don’t get. People don’t partition their bigotry that way. If I won’t vote for an X, solely because that person is an X, there is zero chance that I’m just fine with X’s in all other aspects of my life.
Is it just that you think voting preferences are somehow divorced from all other preferences? Would it make my point more clearly if we were talking about, say, who you would want your daughter to marry? If someone said to you “I wouldn’t vote for a Moslem, and I sure wouldn’t let one marry my daughter, but I’m not prejudiced against them in general”, would you believe them?
I disagree completely on this point. I’ve seen people think just fine of others regardless of religion or race or whatever, but the moment it comes up as someone running for elected office, they shy away and are unwilling to support them for just that reason. I’ll readily agree that not all bigots are as subtle or complex in their bigotry, but I don’t like the blanket statement that can be made to the contrary.
@Rafer Janders: Well, duh. I’m trying to grasp what people are saying, or clarify what I’m saying. I’m bound to make strawmen, I’m a pseudo-intellectual. There’s nothing like an intelligent conversation to make me feel dumb. 🙂
Yeah, I disagree completely on that point. I don’t think that anyone who’d be unwilling to vote for, say, a black man, a woman, a Muslim, a Jew, etc. would be “just fine” with them in other aspects of life. If the only reason you won’t vote for someone, political positions aside, is an aspect of their identity such as race, gender or religion, then I don’t think you can say that you’re not bigoted against them.
@Rafer Janders: Cognitive dissonance is a hell of a thing.
Yeah, but I think it goes the other way, that people are often more forgiving in politics than in other matters. I think there are a lot of people who were willing to vote for Barack Obama, for example, who still wouldn’t want their daughter to marry a black man, or who wouldn’t want a black man to be their boss or to move next door.
No, I am saying it is indicative of broader discrimination against the non-religious.
There is considerable overlap in the groups that feel it is their right to subject everyone to their religious rituals and those bigoted enough against atheists that they would not consider voting for a non-believer. Do you really think otherwise?
Then what do you mean by actual, when you say there isn’t actual discrimination?
I seriously doubt that it is in that one and only one venue. Have you asked these people that you’ve seen why they won’t vote for the atheist. I am pretty sure when you start hearing the whys you’ll see the deeper discrimination. My experience is that they will say things like, “How can he/she have morals if they don’t have religion?” If you don’t think that thinking someone can’t have morals because they are atheist, black, female, or whatever is indicative of bigotry and very likely discrimination, then I will never be able to get through to you on this.
Also, too, plenty of sexists would vote for Sarah Palin.
Oh sure, the overlap’s there, but I think you a) overestimate it, and b) lump too many into the category of “bigot” even if their position is more nuanced than you’d suspect.
What the rest of the first sentence I used the phrase “actual discrimination” said, or “top-down suppression of atheists.’ Or the second sentence I used the phrase in, which was, “This is not actual discrimination that penalizes someone for the [lack of] faith they profess, unless you think losing an election counts as an infringement on someone’s rights.” Voters discriminate against candidates for a variety of reasons, the acceptable ones being positions on issues of the day, the unacceptable ones being defined by the times we live in.
Now, see, that is a strawman. I didn’t say people discriminated against atheists for high office because they think of them as amoral. Hell, one guy I know who has said he’d be less likely to vote for an atheist is because a person’s religion/church attendance can reveal a lot simply by the company they keep, versus an atheist which yields really no information in that spectrum. Think Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright in the ’08 campaign for an example there. Religion is much like any social group a politician can associate with, and that social group’s actions can reflect well or poorly on him.
We may have isolated our core disagreement, then.
Just for the record, if (hypothetically) you agreed that categorical unwillingness to vote for someone solely on the grounds of X is strong evidence of a bias against X with wider consequences, would you be sympathetic to my argument against public endorsement of avowedly anti-X groups?
As I said above, I don’t the think “would you vote for them” test is the only applicable test. There’s also the “would you be upset to have one as a son/daughter-in-law”, and “would you be annoyed to have one move in next door”, and so forth. But of course I think all of those are roughly equivalent, because I think they’re almost perfectly correlated at the individual level…
@DrDaveT: I’m already sympathetic to your argument. It’s the kind I’d use if not for some really odd people I know. To be honest, I think the “would you be upset to have one as a son/daughter-in-law” test is a better one than the presidential electability test since that hits closer individually.
Oddly enough, that one has a quirk that I think detracts from my argument. It is not irrational for religious parents to worry that a child who marries out of the religion is at great(er) risk of lapsing, or converting, or what have you. Religious beliefs being what they are, this gives strong grounds for not wanting your kid to marry out of the religion, even if you think the prospective spouse is an awesome human being.
On the flip side, I think this links to an even stronger reason to keep Christianity out of public life. Christianity is evangelical; many devout Christians see themselves as engaged in a contest (if not a war) against non-Christians, fighting for the souls of the not-yet-converted. Seen in that light, toleration for atheism or non-Christian religions is tantamount to active opposition to Christianity — it really is a case of “if you’re not for us, you’re against us”. Even lukewarm endorsement by the government of an avowedly evangelical religion can (and should) be seen as threatening by non-adherents.
Now, some of us (and I suspect you are one) believe that the best long-term evangelism strategy for Christians is to make people admire Christians and want to be like them. As St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel constantly. Use words if necessary.” But that is not the mode that current US protestant fundamentalists seem to be pursuing.
Neither did @Grewgills. What he said was that everyone would recognize that it’s stupid and bigoted to think that someone can’t have morals if they’re black, but that for some reason some people don’t recognize that it’s equally stupid to think that someone can’t have morals if they’re atheist.
Oops, clarification — Grewgills didn’t attribute that idea to you, but he (?) asserted it himself.
a) I don’t think so, but neither of us has actual data to back up or position in this point, so I will set that aside.
b) I guess that depends on your definition of bigotry. I would say that refusing to vote for someone based on lack of belief in the supernatural displays fear or distrust if not necessarily hatred because of their professed lack of belief. That is the core of the dictionary definition of bigotry.
You switched from penalizes to ingringes on someone’s rights. Those two are not equal. The person that all of these people refuse to vote for solely because of their lack of faith does penalize them, though in that particular case it doesn’t infringe on a constitutional right. You can be a bigot without denying someone a constitutionally guaranteed right.
It isn’t a straw man any more than was your earlier statement that
I was placing your personal experience in the context of my personal experience. Your claim was that the only prejudice these people you’ve seen displayed was regarding elections. My experience is that when I have followed up with similar people I’ve found deeper prejudice and gave a typical example that I have often encountered. I simply asked if you had done similar digging. I think if you do you will also find deeper prejudice. Rather than call my rebuttal a straw man, why not dig a little deeper into the opinions of these people you’ve seen.
That would assume that atheists don’t have any other groups that they are associated with where similar birds of a feather assumptions could be drawn.
And even though many thoroughly dislike Rev Wright, his writings, and expressed political views, they are still less likely to vote for an atheist with a clean slate on that front than to vote for a member of his congregation. Why do you think that is? The birds of a feather test your friend had doesn’t pass muster here.
@grumpy realist: Not quite,
had you neglected England?