Marc Girolami, linked via Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the culture wars at FreeThoughtBlogs, makes a good point. Justice Kennedy said he didn’t want the government getting into the business of deciding what is a religious prayer and what is a “sectarian” prayer. First he doesn’t define “sectarian” prayer, and who would want to try. Then he makes a rule about what the prayers can contain, as Brayton comments:
they can begin their meetings with prayers as long as they don’t “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities” (as though the mere act of making them sit through the religious exercises of others is not an act of denigration), “threaten damnation” or “preach conversion.” But it seems to me that this standard ducks into the same punch that Justice Kennedy said was necessary to avoid when he refused to make a distinction between sectarian and non-sectarian prayer.
Really doesn’t seem that complicated to me when the prayers contain spiritual terms that are the very terms to allow the people saying them to incorporate as a religious organization in the first place. 501c3 organizations are limited in their political speech. If we can define that, defining religion should be easy.
Even if it’s hard, I would rather the Court and everybody else engage in a process where we determine what kind of statements are neutral, open to all philosophies, engaging of all parties, state values of inclusive, etc. Because that’s what government is supposed to do. We should be reminded ourselves of it every time we gather to govern.