We’ve heard a lot about bullying over the past decade or two. And from what I can tell, pretty much everyone who is anyone is against it. We don’t bully nerds. We don’t bully gays. We don’t bully the unpretty, or the unhandsome. We don’t kick sand on the 97-pound weakling. We don’t beat up the fat kid.
Not anymore. We’ve evolved.
Or at least that’s what I thought until Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in its inevitable 5-4 decision along its usual 5-4 philosophical lines, declared it was perfectly fine and legal and good and wholesome and downright American to bully – yes, I said bully – people who don’t share your religion.
Well bully for you, Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy.
Boy did you get this one wrong.
You can’t help but notice that there are five Christian men on the Supreme Court, and they just happen to be the five justices who comprised the majority.
Now maybe that’s just a coincidence.
Or maybe it’s not a coincidence at all.
Maybe, just maybe, those five Christian men don’t understand – because they’ve never come close to experiencing such a thing – exactly how it feels to be a non-Christian who has no choice but to sit and listen to a “chaplain for the month” deliver an overtly Christian prayer in a public meeting in a government building.
How overt? Ask Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision for Town of Greece, N.Y., v Galloway et al.:
The town . . . left the guest clergy free to compose their own devotions. The resulting prayers often sounded both civic and religious themes. Typical were invocations that asked the divinity to abide at the meeting and bestow blessings on the community:
“Lord we ask you to send your spirit of servanthood upon all of us gathered here this evening to do your work for the benefit of all in our community. We ask you to bless our elected and appointed officials so they may deliberate with wisdom and act with courage. Bless the members of our community who come here to speak before the board so they may state their cause with honesty and humility. . . . Lord we ask you to bless us all, that everything we do here tonight will move you to welcome us one day into your kingdom as good and faithful servants. We ask this in the name of our brother Jesus. Amen.”
Kennedy wrote that the opening prayer is constitutional because it honors American tradition, and that . . .
the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understands that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens, not to afford government an opportunity to proselytize or force truant constituents into the pews.
Imagine you’re a non-Christian citizen of Greece, N.Y., or any small town in America, and you’re sitting in a government building at a government meeting packed with Christians, and you have no choice but to listen to that prayer cited in Kennedy’s decision before the business of government gets under way. Try also to imagine that since the population of this town, your hometown, is overwhelmingly Christian, the prayer at every meeting will sound pretty much the same.
How do you think you’d feel? What do you think you’d do? Would you walk out? (Everyone would notice.) Would you stand up and turn your back to the chaplain in protest? (Everyone would notice.) Would you demand equal time? (Everyone would notice.)
No . . . you’d do nothing. You’d sit there and feel small, like you live there but you don’t really belong. Like you’re not quite as “American” as your Christian neighbors.
You’d feel different; you’d feel like the “other.” And you’d wallow in your otherness, because even in your government building, supported in part by your taxpayer money, you are being reminded that there’s really one and only one religion that will be celebrated in this public forum.
And it isn’t yours.
I am an atheist, the son of Jews. I’m neither a lawyer nor a constitutional scholar. But I know a wrong when I see it, and I see it here.
Even if 999 out of 1,000 people in Greece, N.Y., are Christians, the one citizen who isn’t is seeing his freedom of religion infringed upon at every meeting. It is just plain wrong to engage a “chaplain for the month” to deliver an overtly Christian prayer – or any prayer – in a public facility and compel those who do not share his beliefs to sit there and, by their silence, assent.
If you’re a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, or a Mormon, or a Hindu, or a Wiccan, or a Satanist, or a Rastafarian, or god forbid an atheist, then you know what’s happening here:
You’re being bullied.
Suck it up, friend, because the big guy wins.
By most estimates I’ve seen, three out of four people in the United States self-identify as Christians. And by my estimation, they’re following an excellent leader.
But, contrary to what some Americans say, this is not a Christian country; it’s just a country whose citizens are overwhelmingly Christian. If you’re not among them, you’re still an American. You celebrate your differences, you worship (or don’t) as you see fit and you love your neighbor.
We also proclaim that we have freedom of religion. But, contrary to what some people say, that means we also have freedom from religion. In America, we proudly say, nobody has the right to impose his or her religion on others.
Or at least that used to be the case.
As of Monday, thanks to five men on the Supreme Court, it isn’t anymore.
The bullies won.
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