Father Flannigan, Your CEO and the Supreme Court

Prayer Meeting

Town Board meeting, Greece, NY, June, 2013. Photo, Bloomberg News

Reading time – 79 seconds

“And now Father Flannigan will lead us in an invocation that will be meaningful and appropriate for all of us.” With that the head coach of our public high school varsity football team opened the season kick-off meeting for parents and team members on that warm August evening in 1963. Father Flannigan stepped up to the microphone and in his deep baritone voice said, “We pray together  .  .  .” and he invoked and intoned for a couple of agonizingly long minutes, at last ending with, “This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

My father and I looked at each other with a “Huh?” expression. Father Flannigan’s invocation was something other than appropriate for us. Indeed, it was inappropriate for any non-Christian and even some Christians. So much for “appropriate for all of us.”

The First Amendment to the Constitution tells us, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Of course, our public high school was and is a government institution and Father Flannigan’s very specifically Christian Catholic words were part of an official school function. His prayer – indeed, any prayer –  was not appropriate for the occasion, as it clearly expressed religious favoritism, the very thing the Pilgrims left Europe to escape. That tacit favoritism is what “prohibits the free exercise thereof” of any religion other than the one mentioned and it also prevents the free exercise of no religion. And today’s Supreme Court, that interpreter of the Constitution and the intent of the Framers, can’t seem to figure that out.

They ruled in a 5-4 decision on May 5, 2014 that governmental meetings may include Christian prayer. The picture above shows members of the town board in Greece, NY bowing their heads in prayer at the start of their meeting in June, 2013. They were the plaintiffs in this lawsuit seeking effectively to establish a government sanctioned religion – Christianity – for their town. That would necessarily mean a concurrent prohibition of the free exercise of any other religion. In the past the Court has ruled that prayer in public schools isn’t kosher (had to throw that in), primarily because the school children are effectively captive and cannot escape the drubbing of another’s version of religion. And it is the “captive” part that, for this court, is the critical issue, rather than the “Congress shall make no law  .  .  .” part. Apparently, the Greece, NY town board members and other meeting attendees are not captive, which means that government sponsored Christianity – specifically Christianity – is okay, this according to 5 male, Roman Catholic members of this Supreme Court who ruled as such.

This is a companion piece to the fundamentalist surge that, for example, makes idiot Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore declare that the First Amendment only protects Christians.

So, go ahead, Father Flannigan, and offer prayers in church and in your Sunday School classes and in your parochial school. Those are expressly for that purpose and your prayers are appropriate there. But keep your benedictions out of our government, our public institutions and our laws. They aren’t appropriate there, regardless of the wrong-headed decisions of our inappropriate Supreme Court.

The next step toward theocracy just happened, as those same 5 all male, Republican, Roman Catholic old guys decided in the Hobby Lobby case that employers can cite their religion as sufficient reason for withholding insurance coverage for birth control from their employees. Surely the next step will be a Christian Science CEO claiming he doesn’t have to supply medical insurance for his employees at all and those same 5 Justices will go along with that First Amendment tarnishing, protection destroying foolishness, too.

There are quite a few million Americans – including many religious leaders –  who believe there really is supposed to be a separation of “church and state” and a freedom from anyone else’s religion. If only the Supreme Court could figure out this simple concept.

One last thing: As you can see, the righty majority five keep legislating from the bench, this time by warping the First Amendment. How come we’re not hearing a howl from conservatives about that?

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
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5 Responses to Father Flannigan, Your CEO and the Supreme Court
  1. Jim Altschuler Reply

    I would add the Christian invocations before many of our sporting events — in football and baseball locker rooms before games, before every professional motor sport event, etc. And these invocations are done without any consideration for the preferences/beliefs of the attendees. Can you imagine how many different religious beliefs are represented by those 100,000+ people in the stands at Daytona, Talladega, Watkins Glen, or wherever? And how many are not any “version” of Christianity (not Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.)?

    I believe that the same “rules” should apply to those events as to the Greece, NY, Board meeting.

  2. Dominick Palella Reply

    Members of our Supreme Court, as well as all in the district and circuit courts, are political appointees of the ruling majority party at the time. They are all guaranteed a lifetime income whether they work or not, cannot have their salaries reduced and can only be removed by impeachment through the Senate by a two-thirds vote. They can represent their own political ideologies and legislate that unethical and unlawful conduct is acceptable, ignoring key principles of our Constitution.

    We allow one or both of our two political parties backed by corporate special interests to control 99.9% of every legislature in our nation. These political parties now control how all three branches of our government are being run. For the time being, we must concentrate on electing better representatives, and avoiding those who are obviously sociopaths and toadies for their corporate masters for now. But eventually, allowing political parties to represent themselves and conspire with each other, especially within our legislatures, must be stopped. We now have the 21st [century] technologies to give voters the power to pass or reject laws directly and to represent ourselves.

  3. Joni Lindgren Reply

    The decision on Hobby Lobby by our Supreme Court…yes, the same Supreme Court that gave us all this corrupt money to buy politicians by the corporations (Citizens United) and even more recently, the Supreme Court allowing the wealthy to buy politicans with unlimited funds as well in their McCutcheon vs FEC decision….yeah, those decisions….has now opened the floodgates to more lawsuits by corporations who will claim they don’t want to pay for their worker’s blood transfusions (Christian Science) or for their worker’s workman’s compensation if they are hurt on the job or for hysterectomies….the list will go on. It’s an attempt to chip away at the Affordable Care Act and to push these corporate religious beliefs on others.

    Very strange that these religious beliefs hurt so many people! They’re not afraid to cut food stamps, birth control clinics, Veteran’s care, and free transportation for seniors, to name a few of the cuts. What kind of religion takes money and programs from the elderly and those struggling financially???

  4. David Lindgren Reply

    Jack, first of all, I didn’t know that you went to a Catholic High School. I get the separation between religion and state. That’s a no-no. But my sense is that the government with ACA made it manditory that a company must cover birth control for women. That is a very sensitive issue. What if the ACA said, that a company should cover abortions? They didn’t of course but I have been troubled by the government seeing preventing pregnancies as a health problem per se. And I know that there can be an arguement for it. But it is stretching it a bit. Interested in your take.

    • JaxPolitix Reply

      I did not attend a Catholic high school. It was a public high school at which Father Flannigan, a Catholic priest, gave a benediction. And that was the point of my essay. Would that I had made that clearer. That has subsequently been fixed.

      I don’t see birth control as a health issue, even though it is always connected to the healthcare industry. I don’t see preventing pregnancies as a healthcare issue unless pregnancy would pose a health risk to a woman. Nevertheless, that’s the way the law is written.

      My issue isn’t about preventing pregnancy; it’s about religion permeating our politics so that Hobby Lobby can claim a religious objection to covering birth control.

      What if a Baptist CEO claimed that her/his religion doesn’t allow for dancing at any time. Could s/he then claim a deduction from their income taxes for that portion of his bill that would have gone to support the performing arts?

      What if all religious CEOs decided that the sabbath was inviolate and they simply stopped paying 1/7 of their taxes?

      Part of the deal is that we don’t get to pick and choose what we support. We are a conglomeration of people from nearly everywhere else and we have to compromise in order to co-exist, though, that word may be anathema to the absolutists. Part of the compromise is that we don’t have an established religion in the U.S.

      We live at a time when that separation is in grave danger. Bush 43 drew “faith-based” organizations into the governmental sphere, including delivering public funding to some of those institutions. As the zealots and evangelicals push harder to scare Americans into extremist fervor, it seems we are getting ever closer to a theocracy.