Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Civic prayer and diversity

A superb essay from Scotusblog, on the recent decision about prayer before a town meeting.
Town of Greece v. Galloway is a case about religious diversity – how to recognize it and how to accommodate it. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion upheld one version of recognizing diversity, which we might call “deep” diversity or “thick” diversity. On that view, diversity is best preserved by allowing each particular religious faith to express itself, no holds barred, provided that every other religious faith gets its turn. 
But there is another way of acknowledging diversity, found in Justice Kagan’s dissent. That view, which we might call “consensus” diversity or “thin” diversity, responds to diversity by trying to find some common denominator between faiths, so that all faiths are placated, and no one faith is exalted over others. We respect diversity by each agreeing to tone down our particular faith, so as to respect the faith of others. 
The advantage of thick diversity in the context of Town of Greece is that legislators and citizens alike don’t have to check their religion at the door, or even to muffle or dilute it.....
But thick diversity has one obvious disadvantage. The problem of allowing one group to full-throatedly announce their particular religious beliefs at the opening of a governmental function is that those who do not share those beliefs may feel isolated, alienated, even separated from their government. It is not that they will feel coerced into believing what they don’t believe; that does not seem to be the major worry. It is rather that they will feel like outsiders to their own government, because they do not share in the faith of those who are governing them. 
... When does a prayer tip over into proselytization? Aren’t many prayers at least implicitly designed to proselytize? If not, why make the prayers publicly, rather than spoken by the legislature in private before the session begins?

1 comment:

IT said...

While I like this essay, I should say that in my opinion, prayers of this sort should be right out. Have a moment of silence where every one can pray or not, as they prefer. I think the SCOTUS is on dangerous ground here. I think they will find for Hobby Lobby.