So here’s an interesting Supreme Court ruling that frankly surprises me, as it adheres to the original interpretation of the First Amendment, sort of.
Here’s a quick recap on the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause that is supposed to prohibit such prayers: Originally, the First Amendment only applied to the federal government. Notice the first part of the amendment reads “Congress shall make no law….”
The idea is that the states themselves could set their own restrictions on speech, religion, ext. This is why in the days of the Hollywood Production Code in the 1930s and 1940s you had state censorship boards openly either banning films or requiring them to conform to a certain code in order to be approved.
The federal government, however, is prohibited from doing any of this by the First Amendment.
This is why this particular case is so fascinating, as it involves city councils beginning their meetings with prayers, even religion-specific prayers. Unless the state law or city municipal code outlaws such prayers, then under the Constitution they are legal.
The Supreme Court in their 5-4 ruling made their ruling along these lines:
Legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause. Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783, 792. In Marsh, the Court concluded that it was not necessary to define the Establishment Clause’s precise boundary in order to uphold Nebraska’s practice of employing a legislative chaplain because history supported the conclusion that the specific practice was permitted. 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. A majority of the States have also had a consistent practice of legislative prayer. There is historical precedent for the practice of opening local legislative meetings with prayer as well. Marsh teaches that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted “by reference to historical practices and understandings.” Thus, any test must acknowledge a practice that was accepted by the Framers and has withstood the critical scrutiny of time and political change. The Court’s inquiry, then, must be to determine whether the prayer practice in the town of Greece fits within the tradition long followed in Congress and the state legislatures.
Historical precedent has to be taken into account when attempting to ascertain the original intent of the people who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Of course, if they were truly adhering to the Constitution, they would simply write the First Amendment gives them no authority to interfere with the affairs of the states and local jurisdictions.
If only the Supreme Court was as vigilant about protecting the Second, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights of citizens.
Of course, from an anarchist perspective, this whole matter would be irrelevant without the State. Scott Lazarowitz also remarks on how having government meetings, in which decisions are made and enforced against people without their consent, creates unnecessary conflict between people in this area.
I know, the First Amendment protects the right of those who want to pray in the public buildings and before public, government meetings for government business. But in that case you really have to provide for everyone of every faith or belief who wants to use that time to speak some sort of religious statement. (However, there shouldn’t even be “public” buildings and “government business,” which is mainly to intrude in the lives of others. But I digress.)
Even though I am a Presbyterian and believe the Constitution has no authority on the issue of city councils prayers, I find the idea distasteful for people to pray before the opening to a government meeting, unless the prayer went something like this:
Oh, Lord, we are representatives of an entity known as the State. We hold these political offices because we convinced a majority of those who participated in the election to vote for us through means that probably if not certainly involved violating the Seventh Commandment not to commit perjury against our neighbors. We acknowledge that we have no authority except that which is given to us through the expressed consent of individuals in this jurisdiction, which is an impossibility. Our sole ability to govern, therefore, is through the use of violence, theft of property, and coercion against people.
We acknowledge, furthermore, that if we were to obey your commandments we would simply adjourn this meeting and leave our neighbors alone. But since we are a rebellious people, like the Israelites of old who asked Samuel for a king to rule over them like the pagan nations around them, we pray that in spite of our stiff-necked defiance to your commandments all decisions we make tonight will respect peoples’ rights as much as possible, spend the lowest amount of their expropriated tax dollars as possible, and interfere with their lives as little as possible. We also acknowledge that you do not give us authority over these people and that by praying to you we do not claim your divine blessing on any actions this council may make. We in fact pray that you protect the people from any decisions we make that may cause them grief.
Lastly, if we break any laws we ourselves pass and enforce, steal or damage any person’s property, or harm any person without just cause, may you pour out your righteous indignation and holy wrath on us without mercy or compassion as an example to others who may desire to hold the same office as we. Amen.