- - Thursday, August 8, 2013

Evangelical atheists think they have another chance to spread a little sawdust for a revival of their creed when the Supreme Court returns in October. The justices agreed to take up the constitutional question of prayer at public meetings, a question thought to be long settled. The high court had previously ruled that legislative bodies may open their meetings with prayer as long as one faith or denomination does not trump another in practice. Atheists now beseech activist judges to use a new tactic to enable them to trump others.

The stage was set in May 2012 when the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the town of Greece, a suburb of Rochester in upstate New York. The town council invited a resident (a Grecian?) to open council meetings with an invocation. Since most Grecians are Christians, most of the prayers were offered by Christians. Those wanting to pray were chosen randomly, with no one denied a turn. But a couple of dissenters showed up one day to make a federal case for taking offense.

The council even invited a Wiccan priestess to offer prayers, to Apollo or Athena or whomever, perhaps even to bring along “eye of newt, and toe of frog; wool of bat and tongue of dog,” as Shakespeare’s three witches from “Macbeth” did, but the appellate court was neither impressed nor appeased. The judges, taking on theological as well as constitutional robes, said the prayers were biased in favor of the Christian faith, and besides, “there is no substantive mixture of prayer language that will, on its own, necessarily avert the appearance of affiliation.” The difficulties raised by the court “may well prompt municipalities to pause and think carefully before adopting legislative prayer.”

From the floor of Congress to state legislatures and in many city council meetings across the nation, clergy are often asked to offer an invocation prior to the start of these legislative meetings. It has been so since long before the states declared their independence from Great Britain.

Other courts show more deference to the Founders’ understanding of what they meant in writing the Constitution. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently sided with the city of Lakeland, Fla., finding no evidence that an opening prayer constituted proselytizing or advancement of Christianity over other religious faiths. The court rejected the argument of the “Atheists of Florida,” who demanded that all references to God, and particularly to Jesus Christ, be removed from any prayer.

Nearly 120 members of Congress, 25 states and dozens of towns and cities have filed friend of the court briefs to support the town in Town of Greece v. Galloway. Several senators, led by Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, urge the Supreme Court to “eliminate the uncertainty and affirm the strong constitutional footing on which legislative prayer stands” and “allow all those who pray to do so in accordance with their own consciences and in the language of their own faiths.”

The argument over prayer in the public square did not die with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who succeeded in removing prayer from public schools in 1963. If the Supreme Court censors these voluntary prayers, the First Amendment and 250 years of tradition will be turned upside down to establish devout atheism, like a brew from Shakespeare’s witches, as the nation’s only acceptable creed.

The Washington Times