Founding reason restored: SCOTUS got it right on Greece v Galloway

May 14, 2014

The Supreme Court sent a shockwave of terror through the political left last week when in its Town of Greece v. Galloway decision the court ruled that the town council’s practice of opening meetings with a prayer did not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Headlines screamed: “Supreme Court Decision Rocks the Bill of Rights”, “High court favors prayer at council meetings”, implying that some ground breaking new precedent had been set.

Yet all the court really did was to re-establish some balance to the all-out assault on any reference to or mention of religion in any public setting anywhere at any time.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained:

“Legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause… The First Congress voted to appoint and pay official chaplains shortly after approving language for the First Amendment, and both Houses have maintained the office virtually uninterrupted since then.”

Kennedy further clarified:

“Ceremonial prayer 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 the authority of government,”

Such line of thought doesn’t sit well with those that want every public display of faith or religion stripped from our societal conscious, but it is perfectly in line with the historical context of our founding.

Until Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in Everson v Board of Education turned the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause on its head by plucking one line from one letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association 145 years earlier, religion in America and government in America had peacefully coexisted.

But when Black stretched the interpretation of Jefferson’s “wall of separation between Church and State” phrase to extend to all government entities, he gave every “I am offended” malcontent across the country the legal fig leaf needed to demand their own Constitutional carve out.

Yet what Black and kind fail to acknowledge in their zeal to protect their wall is that nowhere in Jefferson’s short letter does he even remotely imply that he means anything other than the national Congress.

And that doesn’t even begin to address the logic twisting and historical amnesia that it takes to form an entire Constitutional legal theory around 7 words, in one letter, written by just one Founder over a decade past ratification.

While Jefferson, Paine and other Founders had personal skepticism and even disdain for organized religion, their commitment to public religious liberty at all levels is copiously recorded throughout the historical record of the time.

Jefferson himself wrote in 1774:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

Not exactly the words of one who would go to court to stop a public prayer.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” is simple and clear.

No national religion, no government prohibition, and not word one banning it from the public square.

Some don’t like it, some are offended, but as hard as it may be for them to understand, the simple fact is, the Constitution is not there to be liked.

The First Amendment was not adopted to prevent the offending of a few, but rather to preserve the rights for all.

And yes, that includes the religious among us.

PUBLISHER’s NOTE:  An edited version of this column first appeared in the May 14th, 2014 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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