Judging from the Panic on the Left

the lede for this story should read:

Roundups and mass executions of atheists begin tomorrow, followed by inductions of all citizens, 18-64, into the Holy American Crusader Force for Global Religious Conversion. Agnostics have 24 hours to make up their minds before being sent to re-education camps for medical experimentation. The Year of the Great Cleansing Fire has Dawned! Hallowed are the Ori!

Fortunately, however, the sane Mollie Hemingway is covering it instead.

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An Atheist Argues for Religious Liberty
Reader Rachel Kolar...
The Next Phase...
Freedom of religion vs. freedom of worship
  • FrankieBeanPie

    I adore Mollie Hemingway. She’s a fantastic writer of whom I always seem to agree with. You can find her current articles at TheFederalist.com.

    http://thefederalist.com/author/mzhemingway/

  • Jem

    I don’t have any ‘panic’ at all about this. They can have all the pretend religious rites they like.

    • CJ

      Your comment is truly outrageous.

      • Jem

        ‘Your comment is truly outrageous.’

        It’s a direct quote from Mark, in this thread – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2014/04/pseudepigrapha.html.

        Mark and I are agreed that there are Christian churches in the US who perform ‘pretend’ rites. All we differ on is the issue of whether there are any that perform ‘real’ ones.

        Personally, I think – as per Universal Life Church v USA (1974) – that ‘religious freedom’ means that we shouldn’t make those distinctions when we look at public life and the political sphere.

        I don’t think a generic prayer or ‘In God We Trust’ are religious statements, any more than ‘Goodbye’ or ‘Wednesday’ are.

        What does concern me is the way something that starts innocuously enough drifts until it becomes a partisan, exclusionary procedure. The National Prayer Breakfast, for example. How many exclusively Republican candidates can Cardinal Dolan campaign for before we admit he’s a partisan figure?

        The separation of church and state is there to protect the *church*, as much as anything. It prevents government taking sides in a sectarian conflict. It keeps the courts out of judging whether what a religion teaches is ‘pretend’.

        This is a protection that I, as an atheist, fervently and sincerely wish stays in place. I do not want to impose my religious views on you, I do not want other people’s views imposed on me. I particularly do not want the Supreme Court to pick a side.

        If Catholics really want to take, say, the contraception issue, or the ordination of women, to the political and public sphere, then they are being *very* short sighted. You probably don’t want people lifting that rock to take a look under it.

        • CJ

          It was a joke based on your screen name. There was a cartoon from the 80’s called Jem and the Holograms. The hook for the theme song was “Jem is truly outrageous, truly truly outrageous.”

          • Jem

            Oh, it’s my name. I’m Jemima Cole. I lived in the UK in the 80s, so I know of the cartoon, but I don’t know anything about it apart from it looks pink and musical.

            • D.T. McCameron

              “looks pink and musical.”

              The first part, anyway.

    • Francisco J Castellanos

      Resistance is futile.
      You will be assimilated.

  • Andy

    I am not pleased with ruling – for a couple of reasons
    1. within the decision – Kennedy says that the prayer is ceremonial – if it is just a ceremony then there would not have been a case – one has to be careful about ceremonies – by the way I don’t see prayer as only ceremonial – all to often it is intended to sway people’s viewpoints. I would rather the court have said that prayer is invocational – asking for assistance from one above
    2. the founding fathers – while they may have been Christian did not tie Christianity to our government – it indeed prayer is to open an event then there should be a rotating schedule of ministers to lead the prayer – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and so on.
    I do not see anything wrong with prayer before civic events – I wish the decision had been written in a different way.

    • http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/ Jonathan F. Sullivan

      Rotating ministers is great, so long as they represent the religious traditions in the community; I don’t think the courts should require governments to “bus in” ministers in order to meet some sort of religious balance test. As I understand it, there were no non-Christian religious communities in the town in question, which is why the prayers were predominately Christian.

      • Andy

        Greece is a large suburb, and in it are there are multiple faith communities – some not large and some large – I don’t think the community should bus ministers in, but they should meet the various religions found in the community.

        • http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/ Jonathan F. Sullivan

          I think we are in general agreement.

        • wlinden

          So, do you think the town representatives were lying when they asserted that they had tried to do so?

          • Andy

            Did they lie? I do not know – but the question is how hard did they try? I know that Greece is a large community so I skeptical about effort, but that may be the cynic coming out in me.

            • wlinden

              So, if anyone actually knows of any “faith communities” in Greece that were snubbed, why did the petitioners not present evidence of it?

              • Andy

                As I said I do not know how hard they tried -I would refer you to JF Sullivan above who said “That assumes a good faith effort to actually know who is in the community, of course”. That is my take as well –
                As far as petitioner’s presentation _ I am not aware of what they said or didn’t say or write. I am more concerned about the wording of the decision then the outcome.

      • Jem

        The ‘reflecting the community’ thing is a crock, though – it’s one of the lies religious figures routinely get away with. Even if the population of a town is 100% baptized Catholic, it certainly does not mean they are churchgoers, or in lockstep on every issue with the local priest. The vast majority of people, even religious people, just want to get on with their lives and for people to be treated fairly.

        • Hezekiah Garrett

          That’s so sad! These Most people must be pitiable indeed, wanting nothing but to finish living and see people treated fairly. No desire to experience beauty, or even lust. No desire for delicious foodstuffs. Not caring how well or poorly people are treated, only that it be fair.

          So sad! We should start a collection to find ways to introduce some humanity among such poor folks!

          By the way, where is Most?

          • Jem

            “By the way, where is Most?”
            It’s not a word I used, so the answer is ‘not in my post’.

            • Hezekiah Garrett

              That’s fine, but it’s still a pathetic, stunted existence not fit even for murderers, thieves, and other reprobates.

              • Jem

                “That’s fine, but it’s still a pathetic, stunted existence not fit even for murderers, thieves, and other reprobates.”

                So you’re arguing that if I wanted an existence fit for a murderer, thief and reprobate I should convert?

        • Alexander S Anderson

          And… having a short non-mandatory prayer by the priest is discriminating(?) against these people?

          • Jem

            No. But it’s not ‘speaking for’ them, either.

        • http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/ Jonathan F. Sullivan

          I don’t know if the community is lying about their religious makeup or not. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that those invited to lead prayer should reflect who is actually in the community, as opposed to people who may be 30/50/100 miles away just for the sake of diversity. (That assumes a good faith effort to actually know who is in the community, of course.)

    • HornOrSilk

      I have no problem with the secular state looking at it as ceremonial, indeed, it’s as far as it can do, especially with regards to how prayer is allowed in a religious liberty situation.

    • wlinden

      As Flannery O’Connor would say, if it’s just ceremonial, to Hell with it.

      • JohnE_o

        Yes, this…

      • HornOrSilk

        That is an abuse of what she said. She was talking about the eucharist, and said if it were only symbol, to hell with it. However, to use that to deny there is symbolism associated with the eucharist would be in error. In the same ways, to reject ceremony as if ceremony is meaningless, is also absurd.

    • kenofken

      This is an example of how dominionism, even in its milder forms, debases the religion it aims to empower through association with government. In order to get around the Establishment Clause, religion-in-public advocates have come up with the fiction that prayer, religious symbols etc. don’t really mean anything. They’re just a thing. Crosses aren’t a symbol with unique meaning to Christianity, they’re just sort of generic respect for the dead signs….Prayer is just a bit of civic ceremony. This sort of foolery gives conservative justices the cover they need to make rulings like this, but at what cost? If religion is just a bit of empty civic or cultural posturing inside a courtroom, there’s no reason it will be treated any differently outside. If prayer before meetings is just a gesture, you can’t get mad a people for treating baptism as an empty gesture to keep the grandparents happy, or for treating Catholic education as just a handy college prep school.

  • JohnE_o

    Hey, if you’re okay with the Supreme Court declaring that your opening prayers at public events are ‘merely ceremonial’, then no skin off my nose.

    on edit – a more clever person than I am ought to adapt the lyrics for Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” to “Merely Ceremonial” and lampoon this whole issue.

    • HornOrSilk

      What’s wrong with the term ceremonial? We love ceremony.

      • JohnE_o

        Yeah, but some of us are just there to discuss our permit issues with the County Water Board.

        You don’t mind if I play Angry Birds on my phone during your ceremony, do you?

        • HornOrSilk

          Would you do that during the pledge, the national anthem, and the like?

          • Jem

            Out of interest, if each council meeting started with a short talk from someone who asserted there was no God, what would you do?

            • quasimodo

              throw a sack of week old taco bell mexican pizzas at them

            • Mary E.

              Roll my eyes and say “Oh brother . . .” but that’s about it.

              • Jem

                I think that reply is the definition of religious freedom. I think we have the absolute right to treat religions as seriously as we deem fit.

                • Mary E.

                  Since I believe in free will, I also believe you are free to interpret my reply however you wish.

            • HornOrSilk

              Well, let’s see, from the foundation of the US, even before the Constitution, prayers have been used in official functions. A talk on “there is no God” is quite different from this kind of ceremony, for a talk is not ritualistic or ceremonial. But if, say, a Buddhist wanted to give a meditation, fine.

              • wlinden

                How about a witch doing an invocation? (As happened in the Oregon State Senate.) Would you be fine with that? Or would you say “That isn’t a REAL religion,” as some do?

                • HornOrSilk

                  Well, I think according to religious liberty and the secular state, yes, they can open up (just as they can be and are part of the military). The point is it is not a “lecture,” but a ceremony with particular forms, which can be met many ways.

          • JohnE_o

            If I did, would you have a problem with that?

            If so, why?

            • HornOrSilk

              And do you do it during a court hearing, when everyone is to rise and be quiet as the judge comes in? I’m pointing out that we should have an element of respect in such ceremonies.

              • JohnE_o

                The Judge can toss me in jail for contempt, so – no, I would not play Angry Birds during that time.

                But let’s stick to the original topic at hand – why do I – in your view – need to show respect during a sectarian prayer at a public function?

                • HornOrSilk

                  But that is the topic at hand. Ceremony and respect.

                  • JohnE_o

                    A feigned respect for a ceremonial prayer that appeals to sectarian beliefs I don’t hold?

                    Really? You think that’s a good thing?

                    • HornOrSilk

                      Yes, it is a good thing, to honor fellow humans.

                    • JohnE_o

                      So…the purpose of the ceremonial prayer is to honor fellow humans?

                      Just how does that work, exactly?

                    • HornOrSilk

                      Your argument is moving away from its origin. The purpose of prayer depends upon many factors, including the desire of the person praying. That is a different question from the purpose of such a prayer or meditation as a ritual at the beginning of meetings.

                    • JohnE_o

                      Well…it was more of a question than an argument, but I’ll go with it – what, in your view, is the purpose of a sectarian prayer as a ritual at the beginning of meetings such as those of the County Water Board?

                    • wlinden

                      “it was more of a question than an argument”
                      But I came here for an argument!

                    • wlinden

                      And that is what I meant by the “abusive” O’Connor misquote. If the “prayer” is not really meant as an act of prayer, but only as an empty formula of the real civic religion, what is the point? That goes especially for “to whom it may concern” prayers, of course.

                    • kenofken

                      “…the purpose of the ceremonial prayer is to honor fellow humans?”

                      You’re pretty much on the money with that statement. The purpose of the prayer, as it was exercised by the town in this case and others, is to use the imprimature of public office to remind citizens of whose religion is “real” and who has real standing before the elected body.

                      It’s a way to declare a quasi-official state religion and to spit in the eye of the Establishment Clause, and this Court, by the narrowest of margins, has ruled that it’s permissible to do so, as long as you aren’t bold or stupid enough to openly declare that intention. Do I think it’s the end of the world? Not at all. Our system of secularism is still very strong.

                      This is a piece of culture war triumphalism that the religious right will eventually find itself hung by, just as it was with gay marriage and other issues. They love the no-quarter given game as long as they have the upper hand. If this decision stands, in a decade or three, you’ll see a majority Muslim council somewhere that shuts out virtually all Christian prayer. Evangelicals and Catholics will suddenly find great virtue in separation of church and state.

                      Are you obligated to show respect during sectarian public prayer? Not at all, in my opinion. You shouldn’t disrupt, but if you’re quiet, you’re under no obligation to stand or bow your head or stop reading your e-book.

                    • wlinden

                      Well, I think it is a good thing to not make a disturbance and “frighten the horses”.

                    • JohnE_o

                      Yeah, I know – the “rub blue mud in your belly button” thing.

        • chezami

          Knock yourself out.

  • Cypressclimber

    I think the basic outcome is more right than wrong. Whatever one thinks about these prayers, the question that the Supreme Court ought to concern itself with is, does this violate the Constitution?

    And I can’t see how they do. That is to say, I don’t see how they violate the actual Constitution…

    As opposed to the imaginary Constitution so many people think exists, but no one has never read. The one that refers to “separation of church and state,” for example.

    Basically, letting preachers pray before meetings — or, in my view, having the politicos pray themselves — is not “establishing” any religion, any more than when the President lights a Menorah at the White House, that “establishes” Judaism.

    Yet the Court just can’t help itself. Instead of just saying that, we get another crazy-quilt “test,” where the prayer can be this–but not this; too much of that, and not enough of this, and voila! You’ve cooked up an unconstitutional something-or-another.

    • Jem

      “Yet the Court just can’t help itself. Instead of just saying that,
      we get another crazy-quilt “test,” where the prayer can be this–but
      not this; too much of that, and not enough of this, and voila!”

      OK … could we not use Mark’s logic about torture, here? If you’re asking whether something is really torture, or legitimate killing, or lying … the good chance is that you’ve done something wrong and you’re looking to get away with it.

      If we all agree that there are certain ways of praying at a council meeting that cross the line, but not where the line is, then isn’t the solution not to pray at council meetings?

      • Cypressclimber

        If we all agree that there are certain ways of praying at a council meeting that cross the line, but not where the line is, then isn’t the solution not to pray at council meetings?

        Your overall point is sound, except I don’t share the premise in the paragraph I just cited above.

        That is to say, I don’t think praying at council meetings “cross(es) the line” of the Constitution. They are not, in any reasonable sense, an “establishment of religion.”

        After all, if we say that members of the town council/state legislature/congress aren’t allowed to pray at these meetings, why doesn’t that violate “free exercise”?

        “Establishment of religion” isn’t some mysterious thing. There’s a clear history to what this meant when added to the Constitution, and it’s clear enough what crosses the line. Prayers and even chaplains aren’t it.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        Category error. Torture is intrinsically evil and must be avoided. Prayer is not intrinsically evil.


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