The Supreme Court & Prayer at Town Meetings: A Chance For Religious Minorities To Be Heard

Invocation_at_1981_Reagan_inaugurationI do not accept Jesus as my lord and savior.

I am one of  of the 22% of Americans who do not identify as Christian, a statistically significant number, but also a significant minority. I can’t speak for all of us, but I can say that as a non-Christian American, I have long lived with the resignation that I will never have an equal spiritual voice in my county. Christianity comes first and other religions are given a small nod. At best, calls for equal recognition of non-Christian traditions are branded as overly PC sensitivity. At worst, we’re infidels who don’t deserve to be religiously tolerated until we convert.

I know, I know. Most Christians are lovely people and would never ever judge me or mine for our religious choices. Most Christians would not condemn me to my face. But then I get an email that says something like this:

“Your kid will learn to be just as irreverent toward God as you like, but will also become irreverent toward you, unless God intervenes.”

The author of that email was reacting to a post I wrote a long time ago about my objection to Halloween candy with Bible verses on it because I think people should refrain from proselytizing to minors without parental consent. But the larger message he sent ms is this: the fundamental belief of Christianity is that only followers of Jesus can be saved and everyone else is already condemned.  I can intellectualize my way out of that if I try hard enough but the fact remains, the predominant religion in America is one that puts itself ahead of all other faiths.

Before you leap to defend American Christendom, just wait. I’m not saying my feelings are entirely rational. They are based on very emotional reactions. But that is the heart of religion – it’s emotional, not logical. So yes, I know individual Christians are not judging me. But that doesn’t reduce the feeling I get that Christendom is. And the ubiquity of Christian dogma in government affairs, from opening prayers to biblical arguments for legislation, can make a non-Christian feel disenfranchised.

All of this is a very long way of getting to my excitement that a case regarding Christian prayer in secular town meetings is being heard by the Supreme Court. My colleague Anne Born summed it up beautifully in this post. She says:

At issue initially was whether offering nearly 100% Christian prayers was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which prohibits the establishment of a formal religion in the United States. The case was decided at first in favor of the town, because it was able to display a good faith effort toward ecumenism by inviting several non-Christian preachers to give their “moment of prayer.” But on appeal, it was decided that the town practice of starting meetings with Christian prayers did, in fact, compromise the First Amendment, despite those invitations. Now, the Supreme Court is about to hear arguments as to whether that appeals court erred in the determination that the prayers violated the First Amendment.

Shake this all down and the questions are for the Court to determine are: 1) is it a violation of the First Amendment to open town council meetings in Greece, NY with a prayer; and, 2) what if that prayer is specifically a Christian prayer? Does that present an effort to establish a practice of following Jesus as the official religion of Greece?

Ann goes on to talk about the fundamental entwining of religion in public life in America. She’s right. Religious references abound. They are everywhere, most of them Christian, because most Americans are Christian. 90% of members of Congress are Christian. Six out of nine Supreme Court Justices are Christian. Every single president has been Christian. And most of the prayers at town meetings in Greece, New York are Christian.

But 22% of Americans are not Christian and we are not equally represented. Our sensibilities are dismissed or assuaged with religious tokenism, a guest rabbi or a local Imam, maybe a Unitarian. Then it’s back to the usual menu of Christianity, the faith of the majority but not the national religion.

The value of the Town of Greece vs. Galloway case is not the Constitutional questions it addresses. Rather, it gives non-Christians a chance to stand on the highest stage in the land and say, “We count! We matter! Christianity is not America’s one true faith – all faiths are equal in the eyes of the law.” It gives non-Christians a chance to explain that all the Christian prayers at public events don’t just make for “an uncomfortable few moments for a minority,” as Ann Born said. They are part and parcel of a daily barrage of Christian messaging that permeates our culture at all levels. It points to Christian privilege and forces Christian America to hear us. It legitimizes us.

The tragedy is that in a nation built on free exercise of religion, we shouldn’t need to be legitimized at all. Our faiths or lack thereof should be on equal footing already. I hope this case puts us there, not by tearing Christianity down but by raising the rest of us up.

Rebekah Kuschmider is a DC area mom with an over-developed sense of irreverence, socialist tendencies, a cable news addiction, and a blog. Rebekah has an undergraduate degree in theatre and Master’s in Arts Policy and Administration and a decade of experience managing arts organizations and advocating in the public health sector.  Rebekah also blogs about her life, her thoughts, and her opinions at StayAtHomePundit.com.She was voted one of the Top 25 Political Mom Blogs at Circle of Moms. Her work has also been seen at Babble.com, Salon.com, Redbook online, and the Huffington Post.

 Image via Wikimedia Commons/In the public domain

  • Anne Born

    What I am hoping for is that this level of national scrutiny and discussion is enough to make not only Greece, but lots of other God-fearing, bible-toting places to re-evaluate how they conduct the business of the town, the school, even the high school motet choir, if you follow what’s going on in Wausau, Wisconsin. I doubt they ever gave this a second thought. And it’s time for that. Thank you for posting this!

    Sincerely,
    Anne

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