Thursday, May 8, 2014

America ka matlab kya? (Christians are #1)

We have always appreciated America as a secular paradise (even though Europe probably has more non-religious people) because of its firm division between Church and State, which in translation means (to us) that religion stays away from the public square but if it is allowed in then all religions (as well as non-religion) speak from the same level platform.

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that the Greece town council had gone too far, citing the "steady drumbeat" of Christian prayers.

Obviously this is a bit of an ideal scenario, there is a strong flavor of Christianity in most things that Americans enjoy and/or celebrate and that was just fine. As far as official America is concerned the fact that you may be a Hindu-American (a term that we are not personally fond of) is of no consequence or if it matters it does so in a good way (diversity!!!).

“one of the greatest moments in U.S. Senate history came when a Christian group recently shouted for God to forgive us during the opening prayer of a Hindu in the Senate.”

Now however we have the latest Supreme Court judgement and the likely (official) consequences of that ruling: Christianity (#1), Judaism (tolerated, Israel is where we will all go to die), Buddhism (we are aware of beaten-up Tibet but not much about the beatings in Burma and Sri Lanka), Hinduism (monkey gods), Wiccan (Harry Potter).....

“Buddha didn’t create us. Muhammad didn’t create us. It’s the God of the Holy Scripture,” he explained.

It is also interesting to note that (3) Jewish justices and (1) non-practicing Catholic justice voted against while the five Catholic justices voted for Christian prayers in the public square.

The dissenters, led by Justice Elena Kagan, said the court had crossed a line by approving a policy of "religious favoritism." She said the majority might view the case differently if a "mostly Muslim town" decided to open its meetings with Muslim prayers or a Jewish community always invited a rabbi to open its official proceedings.

"When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or other," she wrote. "They should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines."

The case began when a town supervisor in Greece, N.Y., near Rochester, decided to invite local clerics to open the town's monthly meetings with a prayer.  
Between 1999 and 2007, all of the participating ministers were Christian.

Two residents who regularly attended the meetings, Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, who is not religious, complained to the supervisor and then filed suit. They contended the town's policy of sponsoring Christian prayers violated the 1st Amendment's ban on an "establishment of religion."

No one disputed that the town could open its meetings with a religious invocation. The Supreme Court in 1983 upheld legislative prayers in a Nebraska case. But it was unclear whether such official prayers could invoke Jesus Christ.

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that the Greece town council had gone too far, citing the "steady drumbeat" of Christian prayers. That decision relied heavily on the opinions of former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who helped forge a previous majority around the idea that the government may not endorse or favor any particular religion.

But the current Supreme Court reversed the 2nd Circuit ruling and rejected the lawsuit. Ceremonial prayers are constitutional, Kennedy said, so long as they do not "denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation or preach conversion."

Thomas would have gone further and said the 1st Amendment does not forbid states or cities from establishing an official religion. Thomas says the 1st Amendment, when it was adopted, limited only the federal government.

Though the case involved a town council, the ruling applies to all levels of government, including state and county boards.

In a significant shift from earlier case law, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that local government “cannot require chaplains to redact the religious content from their message to make it acceptable for the public sphere.” From now on, religious leaders can offer full-throated, unapologetic prayers to the God of their choosing in public meetings. 

And in language consistent with one of the most speech-protective courts in modern history, Kennedy reminds religious objectors that citizens who “feel excluded or disrespected” by such religious invocations should simply ignore them. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” he wrote.

Whenever you hear cries that freedom has won, it’s worth contemplating who, if anyone, has lost. And less than 24 hours after the Court handed down its decision in Town of Greece, citizens of Roanoke, Virginia, have their answer. Al Bedrosian, a member of the Roanoke County’s board of supervisors, was sufficiently emboldened by the majority opinion to announce that he would seek to impose a Christian-only prayer policy. 

“The freedom of religion doesn’t mean that every religion has to be heard,” said Bedrosian on Monday night, adding that he is concerned about groups such as Wiccans and Satanists. “If we allow everything … where do you draw the line?” he asked.

Kennedy’s plurality opinion Monday opened the door to precisely this line of argument as a result of all his airy talk of religious tradition and history. “The tradition reflected in Marsh permits chaplains to ask their own God for blessings of peace, justice, and freedom that find appreciation among people of all faiths,” writes Kennedy.  

“That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing reference to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition.” He adds that “it is thus possible to discern in the prayers offered to Congress a commonality of theme and tone. While these prayers vary in their degree of religiosity, they often seek peace for the Nation, wisdom for its lawmakers, and justice for its people, values that count as universal and that are embodied not only in religious traditions, but in our founding documents and laws.”

In other words, because the prayers offered in the town of Greece abided by this long “tradition,” they are, in Kennedy’s view, acceptable. Even when explicitly Christian. Why? “A number of the prayers did invoke the name of Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit, but they also invoked universal themes, as by celebrating the changing of the seasons or calling for a ‘spirit of cooperation’ among town leaders.” 

What Kennedy did here, in the event that you missed it, was to announce that as a matter of constitutional law, some religious traditions that are universal and longstanding are basically Christian and also that Christian values are basically universal. 

But in so doing he also drew a line between “traditional” and accepted religions, and religions that are “other.” That seems to open the door for Bedrosian to zone out the Muslims and the Jews and for Moore to zone out the Buddhists and (surprise!) the Muslims.
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