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Monday, September 30, 2013

Thoughts on the Court's new legislative-prayer case

I had this contribution, "Legislative Prayer and Judicial Review", to the symposium on the Town of Greece case that the folks at SCOTUSBlog are hosting.  (Go here for a list of all the very-worth-reading contributions, including ones by Prawfs-alums Jessie Hill and Nelson Tebbe.)  Here's a bit:

. . . In my view, the court of appeals got it wrong and the Town’s before-meeting prayers are permissible solemnizations rather than an unlawful establishment.  What is happening in the Town of Greece is consistent with what has been happening at public meetings since our country’s – and our Constitution’s – beginnings.  “Establishments” of religion do exist in the world, but this is not one.  Town officials did not purport to draft, let alone to enforce, a religious creed and the government inviting voluntary “chaplains of the month” to pray at a meeting is not very much like the government imposing a prayer-book on churches.  “Coercing” religious activity is unconstitutional and unjust, but to characterize the Town’s policy as “coercive” is to expand the both the idea of coercion and the power of judges dramatically and unmanageably.

The Town of Greece case, though, is interesting not only for what it could tell us, going forward, about the Court’s First Amendment doctrines and precedents, about the place of religious expression in the public square, and about the extent to which secular governments may acknowledge their citizens’ religious convictions.  The case also provides, I think, a good opportunity for reflection about the role and power of the Supreme Court and about the nature and practice of judicial review in a constitutional democracy like ours. . . .

Posted by Rick Garnett on September 30, 2013 at 11:14 AM in Religion, Rick Garnett | Permalink


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If the government were to impose a prayer-book on the churches that would violate the Free Exercise clause, I would imagine.

It would seem to me that
whatever Establishment means, it must mean something broader than coercing religious activity.

Posted by: Jr | Sep 30, 2013 3:36:59 PM

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