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May 05, 2014

Another Ruling: In 5-4 Vote, Supreme Court Blesses Invocation of "Non-Generic" God in Legislative Opening Prayers

From the sidebar, but it's been a while since my last post (I'm looking, I'm looking!).

This morning the Supreme Court held in Town of Greece v. Galloway, that the town’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with prayers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It was a 5-4 decision, split along traditional right-left lines, though there is not a clear majority opinion.

It's not a clear majority opinion because while five votes support the ruling in this case, there are not five votes for any sequence of logic -- the five conservative justices alternately join, or refuse to join, each other's opinions as to why they're holding as they are.

(Note: A decision's "holding" is just who wins, who loses, more or less. The opinion is more important going forward, as that will inform lower judges how to apply the law. With no clear majority opinion, I'm not sure if any law has actually been made here.)

The dispute comes down to how a court should analyze "coercion" in such matters. While people may have the right to invoke, say, Jesus Christ in their opening legislative prayer, all members of the court seem sensitive, to one degree or another, to the possibility that specific invocations of a specific religion in official state business might "coerce" non-believers in some way.

Scalia and Thomas refuse to join Kennedy's opinion on this point, because they find that he creates an overbroad definition of "coercion" that would outlaw too many sorts of prayer.


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posted by Ace at 02:25 PM

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