May 21, 2013

Getting public prayer wrong again

As the Supreme Court has decided to accept a case about prayer at the start of local government meetings, it's worth a look at a comment from an attorney for Greece, N.Y.:
David Cortman, a lawyer for the town, said its practices were consistent with that tradition. “Americans today should be as free as the founders were to pray,” he said in a statement. “The founders prayed while drafting our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.”
Well, not quite true.

When the Founders were working on the body ofthe Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787, and got stuck, Ben Franklin suggested starting with daily prayer. His motion died for lack of a second.

As for the Bill of Rights, the Congress may have had chaplains, but James Madison, known for his work on the Bill of Rights, strongly opposed such chaplains on ... wait for it ... First Amendment grounds.

Second, this is a red herring, of the types that claim the Supreme Court has barred prayer in school. Nope.

Kids, or teachers and staff, can pray on their own whenever they want in school. Teachers can't lead kids in organized prayer, though.

Ditto, Mr. Cortman's councilmembers can pray on their own during council meetings, if they want. A public invocation, though not as coercive of adults as organized school prayer is of kids, is still coercive.

And, per this story about the case, given that it appears American Christians lie about church attendance and less than 25 percent of people attend a church on a weekly basis, it's quite arguable that prayer in general is coercive and minoritarian.

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