Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of official prayers before meetings of local government, some jurisdictions that had been under court order to stop sponsoring sectarian supplications are plotting their next move.
In Roanoke County, Va., Supervisor Al Bedrosian has a plan: Only Christian prayers will be allowed. Everyone else can go jump in a lake.
“I think America, pretty much from Founding Fathers on, I think we have to say more or less that we’re a Christian nation with Christian ideology,” Bedrosian told the Roanoke Times. “If we’re a Christian nation, then I would say that we need to move toward our Christian heritage.”
How charming. As a legal matter, Bedrosian is wrong: Such blatant forms of religious discrimination remain a problem. But that the fact that he thinks the board can do this is telling. He won’t be the only one who is confused.
To the north in Carroll County, Md., commissioners, who had been under a federal court order to stop using sectarian prayers after a lawsuit brought by the American Humanist Association, have been told by a court that they can go back to their old policy.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild was exuberant.
“For decades now, we’ve been hearing about this so-called ‘separation of church and state’ as an argument to try to silence certain types of prayer under the First Amendment,” he told The Washington Post.
At its most recent meeting, a commissioner prayed to the “god of us all” before members moved on to discuss a wastewater management project. (No word yet on where God stands on the project.)
The high court’s decision in Town of Greece v, Galloway is offensive on many levels, but one of the worst things about it is how the court majority disingenuously pretends that it will further religious freedom.
We’re to believe that during government meetings in local communities, a thousand voices will be heard, and we’ll celebrate diversity and appreciate our differences.
Fat chance. What we’re more likely to get is the type of religious majoritarianism favored by people like Bredosian and Rothschild. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a local government will default to the majority Christian view. Once a year it might, begrudgingly, allow a non-Christian to speak. But there’s not even any guarantee of that.
The message sent will be simple. Before the city council or county commission gets down to the business of fixing the potholes or dealing with zoning issues, there will be a prayer that makes it clear that there are two types of citizens in town: Those who agree with the prayer are the local government’s special favorites and its best citizens. Those who don’t agree are tolerated because the law says they must be, but really, they’re second-class citizens who are kind of strange. They don’t do things “our way.”
And while Justice Anthony Kennedy says you can leave the room if you don’t like the prayer, in the real world anyone with even a lick of sense is going to think twice about walking out on the prayer 15 minutes before requesting better lighting on the neighborhood streets.
It’s a safer bet to go along to get along, so bow your head and look at your shoes while the guest minister explains how Jesus died for your sins and how you can get to Heaven if you just believe in him. After all, you want that better street lighting, right?
There is some good news about this opinion: It is such an embarrassment and the majority has made such a hash of things that the day will come when it will be soundly repudiated as the nation’s religious and philosophical diversity grows. The culture is ahead of the courts.
But here’s the bad news: That day is probably some time off. Until it comes, millions of Americans will have to adjust to the fact that their town council doesn’t think much of their faith (or lack thereof) and regards them as lesser citizens.
They’ll be reminded of that every time they visit a meeting of local government.