Carl H. Esbeck is the R.B. Price of Law at the University of Missouri. He laments the Supreme Court decision to allow prayers before town meetings in Greece, New York and he does so because he is an evangelical Christian. (See our coverage of this decision here and here).
In Esbeck’s recent article at Christianity Today he offers several reasons why he is not “cheering” this decision. I have summarized them below.
- Christian prayer at town meetings leaves the hearts of non-Christians “hardened to Christianity.”
- As a result of the decision in Greece v. Galloway non-evangelicals and non-Christians will seize the opportunity to pray before town meetings. Wiccan priestesses and atheists will want to take a turn at offering an invocation
- It makes people distrust evangelicals and undermines “principled pluralism” as a way for people of all faiths or no faith at all to live peacefully in American society
- If Christians are given special privilege in town government they will lose their “prophetic” voice to speak against the culture when necessary.
- The decision will encourage a mere “civil religion” in Greece by wedding piety to local patriotism.
- “Free exercise of religion” has never meant that “people of faith have a right to capture the engines of government and put them to work on behalf of their confession.”
Read the entire piece here.
I also recommend checking out Brian Beutler’s piece at The New Republic: “Conservative Christians Just Won a Huge Case. Why Won’t They Celebrate?”
HIs last point is the most sensible, I think. I doubt any atheists will want to offer an invocation–what would be the point? Most atheists just want to be left alone in relative peace.
Though not cited in the Greece v. Galloway decision, Zorach v. Clausson has direct application to the question of legislative prayers in general and to Mr. Esbeck's position in particular:
The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concert or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the state and religion would be aliens to each other—hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly. Churches could not be required to pay even property taxes. Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups. Policemen who helped parishioners into their places of worship would violate the Constitution. Prayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamations making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; “so help me God” in our courtroom oaths— these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies would be flouting the First Amendment. A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which the Court opens each session: “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”