The marshal’s customary plea

The AP reports on the SCOTUS discussion of Greece v Galloway yesterday.

The Supreme Court wrestled Wednesday with the appropriate role for religion in government in a case involving mainly Christian prayers at the start of a New York town’s council meetings.

The justices began their day with the marshal’s customary plea that “God save the United States and this honorable court.” They then plunged into a lively give-and-take that highlighted the sensitive nature of offering religious invocations in public proceedings that don’t appeal to everyone and governments’ efforts to police the practice.

Sigh. Why is there such a thing as the marshal’s customary plea that “God save the United States and this honorable court”? Why can’t the government and its institutions be free of this constant “customary” prodding to acknowledge a god that doesn’t exist?

The justices tried out several approaches to the issue, including one suggested by the two Greece residents who sued over the prayers to eliminate explicit references to any religion.

Justice Samuel Alito pointed to the country’s religious diversity to voice his skepticism about the call for only nonsectarian prayer. “I just don’t see how it is possible to compose anything that you could call a prayer that is acceptable to all of these groups,” Alito said.

Exactly; so don’t have a fucking prayer. Don’t have any superstitious rituals in a government setting that is not supposed to exclude people on the basis of their metaphysical beliefs. If you need to pray, do it before you get to work.

As Douglas Laycock, the University of Virginia law professor representing the residents, tried to craft an answer, Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts jumped in. “You want to pick the groups we’re going to exclude?” Scalia said. A few seconds later, Roberts chimed in, “We’ve already excluded the atheists, right?”

Right. Stop doing that.


  1. Claire Ramsey says

    What happened to Oyez Oyez All Rise

    They should say Oyez more.

    Also, what is the US being saved from?

  2. screechymonkey says

    Yeah, I don’t have a good feeling about this case.

    The right thing to do, of course, would be to rule that all “official” prayers are an Establishment Clause violation, overruling Marsh v. Chambers if necessary.

    But the Court doesn’t have the guts to do that. Well, more specifically, Kennedy and Breyer don’t, and that’s your ball game. Justice Thomas doesn’t even think the Establishment Clause applies to the states — he’d be fine with Alabama forming its own official state church. Scalia, Alito, and Roberts just take it for granted that Christian prayer is okey-dokey and if you think the Constitution gets in the way of that, then you must be reading it wrong because the founding fathers loved them some Jesus.

    Breyer, after all, is the justice who came out on opposite sides of the two Ten Commandments cases recently, basically ruling that if it’s old enough it can stay.

    What really concerns me at this point is that Kennedy may jump on board with the four (other*) conservative justices and throw out the Lemon test and replace it with something very weak that allows pretty much anything short of explicit theocracy. Unfortunately, Kennedy has just enough intellectual honesty that he may not be able to pretend that these prayers satisfy Lemon.

    At this point, I think the best outcome we can hope for is some convoluted mess of opinions where Kennedy and/or Breyer supply the 5th and 6th votes for the city, on some wishy-washy hair-splitting rationale that doesn’t make for clear precedent, like it’s ok as long as you make token efforts to “invite” other faiths to lead prayers from time to time.

    *The media needs to stop pretending that Kennedy isn’t a conservative, too.

  3. iknklast says

    Another thing that rarely gets mentioned – when you use a non-sectarian prayer, you also exclude all those Christians who think non-sectarian prayer is “evil” and “anti-Christian”. A non-sectarian prayer elevates a wishy-washy indefinable “something” to the level of government religion. The idea is that you can fill in your own something (and if you fill in nothing, well of course you don’t count). But I’ve known some priests and ministers who quit saying prayer at meetings like this because they feel the government shouldn’t be able to tell them not to pray in the name of Jesus. They’re right. So the prayers should be removed totally. Then the problem is solved. The god-folks can bow their heads and pray in silence as often as they want, and the rest of us can take advantage of the silence and inactivity on their part to pass all sorts of wonderful legislation regarding abortion, homosexuality, and other things they hate.

  4. says

    I’ve been commenting about this over at Mano Singham’s (he’s doing a good job of covering it).

    Yeah, I don’t have a good feeling about this case.

    Hm. I have a strangely good feeling about it. Not sure why – maybe the fact that they took it up in the first place. Once the stuff about offending devil-worshippers and atheists and excluding atheists is there on the record, I don’t see how they can ignore it. Especially given how incredibly weak is the tradition/custom/history argument and how anomalous and baseless Marsh was. It just seems like there’s no way they can come out of it at this point looking remotely reasonable and just without ruling against government-sponsored prayer altogether.

    It’s possible that Scalia went into this with more confidence than he should have had. Of course, it’s also possible that I’m overestimating them. Even worse, you might be right that it could lead to a step back.

    (It’s fun to imagine them deciding this case if the prayers in question were overwhelmingly Muslim….)

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