Xref: taco talk.religion.misc:38624 alt.atheism:9341
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Carl Tait)
Subject: Re: Atheism and prayer at graduation
Date: 10 Apr 91 05:13:21 GMT
Sender: email@example.com (The Daily News)
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Carl Tait)
Organization: Columbia University Department of Computer Science
In article <1991Apr8.email@example.com> firstname.lastname@example.org (Jason Hunsaker) writes:
>That's just the point. The government is *not* doing it for me.
>Dallin H. Oaks said:
> ... I believe that much of the controversy over prayer
> in public places suffers from a failure to distinguish
> between governmental action and accommodation of private
> expression in a public place.
But no special "accommodation" is needed! Anyone can pray any time they
feel like it. Deliberately setting aside time for prayer during a
government-sponsored event gives an imprimatur to the act that goes
far beyond mere accommodation.
> A decision outlawing prayers in public school
> classrooms, which are tax-supported government institutions
> responsible for instructing impressionable youth, does not
> forbid prayers by and for adults in settings that are merely
> public, such as town meetings, patriotic programs, Parent
> Teacher Association functions, and the like. Though offered
> in a public place, such prayers are personal-- not
> governmental-- devotions.
The idea that youngsters are "impressionable" has never played a very
significant role in high court decisions on this issue. In desegregation,
yes; in church/state separation, no.
> ... Before we acquiesce in the use of judicial power to
> indicate what words cannot be included in a prayer, we
> should remember that if it is no part of the business of
> government to *write* a prayer, then it is no part of the
> business of a court to *censor* a prayer.
> The United States Supreme Court voiced that principle
> just six years ago in rejecting an argument that the prayers
> in a state legislative assembly were illegal because they
> were always offered by a chaplain of one religious
> denomination. The Court said: "The content of the prayer is
> not of concern to judges where, as here, there is no
> indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to
> proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other,
> faith or belief." (_Marsh v. Chambers,_ 463 U.S. 783,
This excerpt completely misses the central thrust of _Marsh_, which was that
prayers in the legislature were allowable due to "historical acceptance
of the practice." Protestant prayers were, of course, part and parcel of
this historical package.
> [In another court decision,] the Court said:
> "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose
> a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one
> chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and
> creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We
> sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no
> partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish
> according to the zeal of its adherents and appeal of its
> dogma. When the state encourages religious instruction or
> cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the
> schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the
> best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious
> nature of our people and accommodates the public service to
> their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to
> find in the Constitution a requirement that the government
> show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would
> be preferring those who believe in no religion over those
> who do believe." (_Zorach V. Clawson,_ 343 U.S. 306,
That excerpt from _Zorach_ is widely quoted by religionists, who never
quote the following part of the decision (written by William O. Douglas):
"There cannot be the slightest doubt that the First Amendment
reflects the philosophy that Church and State should be separated.
And so far as interference with the 'free exercise' of religion
and an 'establishment of religion' are concerned, the separation
must be complete and unequivocal" (id., at 312).
WHAT?! This doesn't even sound like the same jurist wrote both statements,
much less in the same opinion! The problem is that Douglas was trying to
reconcile his fervor for the Establishment Clause with his belief that
certain government activities constituted "accommodation" rather than
outright support of religion. In principle, this is reasonable, though it
is debatable whether or not _Zorach_ falls into the "accommodation" category.
(This decision allowed schools to provide "released time" for students to
attend religious hootenannies, while other students had to stay and work.)
But Douglas was unequivocally opposed to government-sponsored public prayer.
He made his position quite clear in his concurring opinion in _Engel v.
Vitale_ (370 U.S. 437 (1962)), the celebrated decision that disallowed prayers
in public schools: government employees cannot, as any part of their job,
conduct religious exercises. (_Marsh's_ "historical acceptance" test is
the only exception.)
> "Those who oppose all references to God in our public
> life have set themselves the task of rooting out historical
> facts and ceremonial tributes and symbols so ingrained in
> our national consciousness that their elimination could only
> be interpreted as an official act of hostility toward
> religion. Our constitutional law forbids that." (First
> Presidency Statement, "America's Religious Heritage,"
> 9 March 1979.)
Removing religious mottos, icons, and practices that should never have
been allowed in the first place hardly constitutes "hostility"!