Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the First Amendment was not violated when monthly board meetings in Greece, New York were opened with a Christian prayer. In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the ruling would “strike a heavy blow against the nation’s tradition of religious pluralism, and will lead to prayers that will actively promote a single faith’s religious values.” At The Daily Beast, Geoffrey R. Stone, former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapter, breaks down the decision. At The Atlantic, Garrett Epps reveals how the court’s decision “shows how far the ground has shifted under the Establishment Clause in the last 30 years” while Dahlia Lithwick at Slate prepares her readers to “get ready for a lot more Jesus in your life.”
In the wake of Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton D. Lockett, the White House “has commissioned yet another study of lethal injections.” Writing for The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen explains why President Obama “would be better off lobbying the Supreme Court and Congress to make changes.”
At The New York Times, Adam Liptak reports on a new study which reveals that Justice Antonin Scalia “voted to uphold the free speech rights of conservative speakers at more than triple the rate of liberal ones” while David S. Joachim reports on the “pivotal” Republican primaries in North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky and what they could mean for the 2014 midterm elections.
At Womenstake, Michelle Banker comments on a Guttmacher Institute study which shows that “more bills to protect access to abortion have been introduced thus far in 2014 than had been introduced in any year for the past 25 years.”
* Americans United represented the plaintiffs in Town of Greece, with Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan serving as lead counsel.
This morning, by a 5-4 vote in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court upheld a town council’s practice of opening its meetings with predominantly Christian prayers.
It did not matter to the Court’s majority that approximately two-thirds of the opening prayers had expressly Christian references, such as “Jesus,” “Christ” and “Your Son.”
Nor did it matter to the majority that the ministers who gave the prayers typically directed them toward the citizens attending the prayers, often asking them to participate.
Nor did it make a difference that the prayers took place in a small council chamber, often attended by less than a dozen town residents who would have to plead requests for permits and variances to council members who could easily see whether the residents took part in the prayers.
The principal ground for this ruling was the majority’s conclusion that such prayer practices were common in 1789, when Congress approved the First Amendment.
The majority paid no heed to how drastically American society has changed in the two-and-a-quarter centuries that have passed since then. We are no longer a nation where nearly everyone professes to be a Christian. More and more of us identify as atheists and agnostics, Jews and Muslims, Buddhists and Wiccans, or members of a litany of other faiths.
by James C. Nelson, Justice, Montana Supreme Court (Retired)
Congress has proclaimed that the first Thursday in May—May 1, this year—is set aside as a National Day of Prayer. There will be a National Prayer Breakfast and similar state celebrations conspicuously attended by elected officials, politicians and sectarian persona.
But should Congress and state officials be promoting prayer at all? According to the Constitution, no!
The First Amendment guarantees two things: (1) that Congress will not prohibit the free exercise of religion; and (2) that Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion. These two clauses embody the wall separating church and state—a wall that is supposed to keep government out of religion, period.
Why, then, did Congress create in 1952, and then codify in 1988, a “national” day of prayer? If you answered, “True to the intentions of the Constitution’s framers, America is a Christian nation,” you’d be wrong. Indeed, creating any kind of a religious nation, Christian or otherwise, is exactly what the framers were trying to avoid when they drafted the First Amendment. And for good reason.
New laws throughout the country are restricting access to abortion clinics. In 2013, “22 US states adopted 70 different restrictions on abortion, including late-abortion bans, doctor and clinic regulations, limits on medication abortions, and bans on insurance coverage.” Writing for The Guardian, Erika L. Sánchez explains why those who can’t reverse Roe v. Wade are “focusing on generating enough red tape to shut down as many abortion facilities as possible.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is preparing for oral argument in a case challenging Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban. Similar to Utah’s controversial law at issue in Kitchen v. Herbert, Oklahoma’s law “prohibits gay couples from marrying and prevents the state government from recognizing such unions performed anywhere else.” Emma Margolin at MSNBC breaks down Bishop v. Oklahoma.
Writing for The New York Times, ACS Board Member Linda Greenhouse breaks down McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission and its “indecent burial” of campaign finance.
Tonight on C-SPAN, Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia will discuss the First Amendment and “the contemporary meaning of freedom.”
As voters prepare to head to the polls this election season, many are concerned with how last year’s Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder will affect voter turnout. Carrie Johnson at NPR reports on an ACS-sponsored voting rights training in Atlanta that is working to prevent voter disenfranchisement.
When did the Supreme Court’s stance on campaign finance reform begin to change? For Kenneth Jost at Jost on Justice, the court began to “open its door to more money in politics” as soon as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor closed the door on her career in 2005. In his analysis, Jost breaks down McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission and explains why it’s “no mere coincidence that O’Connor’s departure marks the court’s turning point on issues of campaign finance regulation.”
Attorneys have filed a lawsuit to stop Texas’ expansive restrictions on abortion. Irin Carmon at MSNBC reports on the new challenge from abortion rights activists.