Reviews | The Supreme Court’s Threat to the Separation of Church and State

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Every few months, another conservative Christian media darling comes to the Supreme Court, claiming they were victims of oppressive government agents wielding the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment against them.

And each time, they get a sympathetic ear from the curators on the ground. This is because the Court’s plan to reduce the separation of church and state to a thin piece continues inexorably in one direction.

It happened again this week, when the court heard the case of Joseph A. Kennedy, a Washington state football coach whose postgame prayers at a 50-yard line became a cause famous on the right. While it’s not entirely clear how far the court will go when it rules, the closing arguments leave little doubt that the Tory justices will use the case to continue their long campaign against the Establishment Clause. .

This project is not an end in itself. It’s part of the larger culture war, and if there are many areas where conservatives only hope to slow progress, this is one place – with the extraordinary power they wield on the ground and their eagerness to use – that they can successfully turn back the clock.

The story the right tells about Kennedy is that of a humble, godly coach who only wanted to engage in private prayer after games — “a brief prayer of thanks,” as his attorney put it. – and was persecuted by his employer as a result. This story is a complete misrepresentation of the facts in this case. But this is a common case, in which conservatives claim that if they are not allowed to impose their religion on others, they have been victimized and the Constitution must adapt to them.

In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored prayers, even vague and non-denominational, violated the Establishment Clause’s prohibition against establishing a state religion, even if they were meant to be “voluntary.” ” for students. The ruling was one of the most controversial in the court’s history, and to this day some conservatives blame it for a range of societal ills from out-of-wedlock births to school shootings.

Then, in 2000, the court considered whether it was permissible for a school to allow student-led sectarian prayer at events such as graduations and football games; the court said no. Students and teachers are free to pray alone and to come together to do so; the question is whether these prayers are official whatever sort of.

In this case, the coach’s prayers were not at all private or individual, no matter how many photo shoots he does presenting himself as a solitary figure communing with his god. They were not only public but also clearly a performance intended to attract as much attention as possible; if you pray for yourself, you don’t go to the 50-yard line at the end of the game to do it.

The school eventually suggested that they could provide him with a private space to pray if he wished. Instead, he hired lawyers and went on a media tour, turning his prayers into a gigantic spectacle.

Some students on the team said they felt compelled to participate, which is completely unsurprising. If you were looking for a starting spot and your visibly devout coach was leading the post-game prayers, sure you would conclude that taking a knee for Jesus in full view of the coach would keep you in his good graces.

The court’s conservative majority may not be willing — yet, anyway — to reverse the court’s 1962 ruling and welcome prayer back into public schools. But they are eager to open that door, if only a little here and there, all on the theory that not allowing conservative Christians to impose their religion on others is a form of oppression.

And yes, we are talking about Christians here. If you think conservative judges would have the same sympathy for a coach using a school event to hold Muslim or Hindu prayers, you don’t know much about this court.

It is also important to realize that, contrary to the story told by conservatives, America’s public schools today are teeming with religious activities, full of good news clubs and Christian associations, study groups Biblical and hundreds of other student organizations. To function in schools, they must be primarily student-run, but the idea that public schools are a place where Christianity is banned couldn’t be further from the truth.

Nevertheless, conservatives cling to the fantasy that because some department stores have signs reading “Happy Holidays” and gay Americans are now allowed to marry, Christians in America have become an oppressed majority. In recent years, it has become its own right-wing article of faith, not just an empirical claim about life in America, but itself an emblem of identity. To say that Christians are persecuted is to announce your belonging to the conservative tribe.

Their real problem is not that they are oppressed but that they do not want America to be a truly pluralistic society, a society in which their particular traditions and doctrines do not dominate but have equal status with everyone else’s. others. This is what they are determined to prevent. And for years and even decades to come, the Supreme Court will do everything to help them.


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