Bill Murchison

The U.S. Supreme Court's latest public prayer decision reminds us what an increasingly terrible time our liberals have with God. To wit, they don't really want him around: well, certainly no more than necessary, and when he does show up, the less said about it, the better. Except that considerable numbers of Americans appear very much to want him around. How to make these obsessives take their obsessions discreetly out of sight? Such is the liberals' perplexity.

In Greece, New York, a suburb of Rochester, the town board has, since 1999, invited local religious leaders to open meetings with prayer. The preponderance of these leaders has been Christian (there have been no calls in Greece, apparently, for the blessings of Zeus). Two disconcerted locals sued; they wished the town to demote the Christian/Jewish God to a more generic status. A federal district court said Greece was doing just fine; an appeals court asserted the reverse; this week the Supreme Court agreed with Greece, finding, 5 to 4, in favor of what Justice Anthony Kennedy called "a practice that was accepted by the Framers and has withstood the scrutiny of time and political change."

Kennedy noted the town's felt need "to accommodate the spiritual needs of lawmakers." He traced precedents in the case back to the republic's earliest years. He said under town patronage God had heard not just from Christians but from a Jewish layman, a Baha'i member and, for heaven's sake, a Wiccan priestess. Greece worked at ecumenicity and inclusion: just not hard enough to suit the four liberal dissenters, namely, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Kagan spoke for the liberal bloc in a manner that could leave one wondering whether the liberal mind has more than an inch of cobwebby space to spare for an old-fashioned premise -- namely, that the God generally accredited with creation of the universe merits occasional public attention: at minimal, if any, cost to public unity.

Not so 's the court minority appears to believe. Kagan scoured America's constitutional flooring for chinks through which prejudice and rancor could emerge in the event of undue public coziness with God. What about the Muslim woman wanting to address the town board about a traffic signal? Would she feel somehow less a citizen, less a petitioner following the mention of Jesus' name? Kagan wasn't --she said -- in favor of shutting out prayer as prayer. But "we are a pluralistic people," and apparently that's the main thing going on here. The possibility for exclusion and division was ever on her mind.


Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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