When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion on Monday holding that the invocations given prior to meetings of the town council for Greece, N.Y., are constitutional, it was hailed as a great victory for religious liberty. It was a victory, but the hypocrisy of the majority opinion was clearly showing.
Many Christians, in particular, are celebrating the Court’s decision, because prayers offered before the council meetings were, over the years, predominately Christian in nature and were often given “in the name of Jesus.” That such prayers are constitutionally permissible is good.
But the hypocrisy of the majority in which so many exult cannot be ignored. The Court rightly said, “the Establishment Clause must be interpreted ‘by reference to historical practices and understandings.’” They got the fact right that prayers before legislative bodies have a long history in our nation, going back to our Founding Fathers.
But that is what makes the following statement by the Court so maddening:
“‘[T]he line we must draw between the permissible and the impermissible is one which accords with history and faithfully reflects the understanding of the Founding Fathers.’ A test that would sweep away what has so long been settled would create new controversy and begin anew the very divisions along religious lines that the Establishment Clause seeks to prevent” (emphasis mine).
Reading the last sentence, one can’t help but ask, “So why have you spent the last sixty years or so sweeping away long-established religious practices, and the public practices related to and recognitions of Christianity in particular?”
And I can’t help but wonder whether it’s possible that the “very divisions along religious lines” that facture us today are a product of the Court’s modern practices of “prostrating Christianity” for the sake of other religions.
My last thought would probably evoke the ire of a majority of our justices and perhaps every liberal in America, which is why I put the words “prostrating Christianity” in quotes. The words are not mine. They come from the very first commentary written on the Constitution, written by Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, who happened to be living at the time the Constitution was adopted and who taught constitutional law at Harvard University:
“The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism [Islam], or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.”
Let’s put the pertinent part of that statement in language with which we’re more familiar. Using the Webster 1828 Dictionary that would reflect the meaning of the words Justice Story used to define “countenance” and “infidelity” and “prostrating,” the first part of his sentence would read:
“The real object of the First Amendment was not to [aid, support, encourage, abet; to vindicate, by any means,] much less advance . . . [disbelief of the inspiration of the Scriptures, or the divine original of Christianity] by [laying flat, throwing down or destroying] Christianity.”
In other words, the modern Supreme Court, in utter disregard for what “accords with the history and faithfully reflects the understanding of the Founding Fathers,” has done exactly what the First Amendment was not to do: aid, abet, and even advance atheism by throwing down Christianity.
Maybe some day the Court will take its own admonitions seriously and get their history straight as well. That would be a victory really worth celebrating.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.