Yesterday’s culture-war-food-fight post seems to have achieved the desired effect. Let’s double down.
We haven’t covered it (I think) but there’s a case pending before SCOTUS right now that will decide the future of this subject. Like many legislatures (including Congress), a town in upstate New York begins every meeting of the city council with a prayer. It used to be that those prayers were overwhelmingly Christian, replete with invocations of Jesus. After a few locals complained, the town decided to keep the daily blessing but to start rotating in ministers from other faiths too to deliver it. Question for the Court: Does having a religiously diverse group of chaplains cure the Establishment Clause problem involved in starting official state business with a blessing? Or is any blessing ordered by government unconstitutional no matter who’s delivering it?
The public’s view of this is straightforward:
Not only is there no group that thinks prayers before meetings should be verboten, only Democrats crack the 30th percentile. Which is what you’d expect if you’re familiar with polls on a related subject, prayer in public schools. There’s also partisan consensus supporting a constitutional amendment to allow that, albeit with a similar small dip among Dems. In fact, the public has never agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision banning school prayer by students — although, interestingly, opposition to it is lower than opposition to banning prayer before public meetings:
There’s also a sharp divergence among different age demographics when you ask about school prayer that isn’t there when you ask about prayer before public meetings:
Why is the public heavily opposed to banning prayer before public meetings while not quite as heavily opposed to banning it in schools? My hunch is that it boils down to kids being more impressionable. If the great fear underlying the Establishment Clause is religious indoctrination by government, it stands to reason that you’d worry more about a 10-year-old’s ability to resist that than a 40-year-old’s. By the same logic, I’d guess that the public would be more tolerant of prayers before every class at the state university than prayers before every class at the local elementary school.
Exit question via Slate: Why is the DOJ on the side of the town in this one? You would think that a Department led by liberals would be sticklers about the Establishment Clause and thus on the side of the people trying to shut the blessings down. Is it a simple matter of the White House not wanting the political headache of being seen as anti-prayer, or are they trying to spare themselves some future lawsuits by taking this position? If religious mentions by legislatures are fair game for lawsuits, mentions by the executive will be fair game too.