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?
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 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.