What is wisdom?

Weighing in on Greece v. Galloway

The author, a computer systems engineer specializing in disk storage, is president of the Atheists of Butte County. To learn more, visit www.buttecountycor.org.

When I was a political science undergraduate student studying the U.S. Supreme Court, I was in awe of the court. The language of the opinions fascinated me. The construction and logic of the decisions enthralled me. One example I studied in a constitutional law class is the 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education. The court ruled that having separate schools for blacks and whites was not right; that separate education was inherently unequal. This historic decision changed the course and quality of education and civil rights for all Americans.

In the recent Town of Greece v. Galloway, the court has ruled that it’s OK to have prayers at the beginning of governmental meetings. The court’s advice is, don’t like the prayers? Walk away, ignore them. The court says religious invocations are part of our history, and that’s how it’s always been. So there.

Really? But wasn’t slavery and racial discrimination part of our history? In fact, didn’t most of the Founding Fathers own slaves? Considering slavery still exists in many parts of the world, would the court now say that slavery is part of history so it’s permissible?

But let’s take a closer look at Greece v. Galloway, because after all the publicity and the media coverage, the case really wasn’t quite what you might think. Susan Galloway never asked the court to ban prayer at the beginning of the town of Greece’s meetings, “but rather requested an injunction that would limit the town to ‘inclusive and ecumenical’ prayers that referred only to a ‘generic God’ and would not associate the government with any one faith or belief.”

Greece v. Galloway certainly should not have been (and was not) the case that non-believers should hang their hats on in hopes that the court would find that all prayers at the beginning of government meetings violated the establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment. Perhaps the only clear intimation is that invocations must be inclusive and representative of a cross section of the population.

Although this court ruling must be classified as a narrow ruling (just the facts, ma’am, just the facts), it’s quite clear that whether sectarian or not, the court sees prayer as an integral part of American life and thereby, government life. But then again, this Supreme Court probably would not have found that education opportunity in historically racially segregated schools was inherently unequal.