Acton Institute Powerblog

An Open Letter Regarding Greece v. Galloway

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Katherine Stewart is most unhappy about the recent Supreme Court decision, Greece v. Galloway. The Court upheld the right of the town of Greece, New York, to being town hall meetings with prayer, so long as no one was coerced into participating. And that makes Ms. Stewart unhappy.

In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Ms. Stewart decries the Court’s decision as something akin to a vast, right-wing conspiracy.

The first order of business is to remove objections by swiping aside the idea that soft forms of establishment exist at all. Here, the Greece decision delivers, substantially.

A second element of the plan for undermining concerns based on the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is to reinterpret public acts as personal expressions of speech by private individuals. Thus, when the minister appointed by the municipal government of Greece bids “all rise,” the Supreme Court majority tells us, this is not an establishment of religion because the words are not uttered by public officials. And when the town leaders respond with a sign of the cross, that isn’t establishment either, because, just then, public officials are acting as private individuals.

Another prong in the assault on the Establishment Clause is to use neutrality among religious denominations as a wedge for inserting the (presumed) majority religion into state business.


Oh, dear. Might I address Ms. Stewart directly?

Dear Ms. Stewart,

I’m sorry you’re so unhappy about the Greece v. Galloway decision. But I have to tell you, you misunderstand many things about those of us who seek to protect our freedom of religion guaranteed to us in our nation’s Constitution. Let me just address a couple of things.

First, you call us “cock-a-hoop,” by which I assume you mean crazy. We are not. We are faithful. We adhere to religious beliefs and tenets. Like billions of people living now, and billions who have come before us. Being devout does not make one “cock-a-hoop.” It makes one devout.

Second, you seem a little – how to put this? – paranoid. We folks who head to synagogue, church or mosque every week are not looking to force anyone to march along side us into services. We just want the same thing you have: equal protection under the law. If you don’t want to pray, don’t pray. Opening a meeting with prayer is an invitation to prayer, not a coercive headlock to comply. Relax, close your eyes and think about nothing or flowers or puppies or whatever you wish. Or don’t close your eyes. Either way, you do not have to pray with us.

Finally, you seem to think all of this is some well-orchestrated plot (you refer to “another prong in the assault on the Establishment Clause”) by all faithful people across the land to get a “majority religion into state business.” I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but we can’t even decide amongst ourselves what religion or version of a religion is top of the heap. How would we develop a plot to overthrow the atheists and agnostics when we can’t even decide if the Catholics, the Baptists, the Greek Orthodox, the Orthodox Jews or the Sunni Muslims should get top billing?

Ms. Stewart, read the First Amendment again: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” No one, not the Supreme Court, not the evangelicals, the Catholics or any group is demanding that the government establish a religion. In fact, we want to avoid that as much as you do. We like being able to practice the faith of our choice. We like being able to pray with each other when we can. We want that right protected. And so did our Founding Fathers.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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