National Edition

Supreme Court case to shed light on religion in the public sphere

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6 2013 4:00 a.m. MST

“It’s not as if there is some core type of prayer that every faith can say,” he said. “Any prayer is not going to provide all faith perspectives.”

McConnell said he couldn’t see a way in which the Supreme Court would look to censor Greece. “It would clearly make things worse, not better … to censor the content of the prayer.”

And, he said, there is no way for the Supreme Court to form a compromise between the town and Galloway.

McConnell said the town’s present prayer situation is likely to continue, especially because Galloway’s argument that there is such as a thing as non-sectarian prayer “is pretty silly,” he said.

Religion and the public square

McConnell said historically this decision isn’t a difficult one for the Supreme Court to make. Not only does the court have Marsh v. Chambers to look back on, but also the foundation of the country, McConnell said. When the First Amendment was adopted, he said, “the prayers were no more non-sectarian than the ones from the town of Greece.”

Similarly, Richard Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame, said the Supreme Court shouldn’t show too much care in the case because of the 1983 decision. He said by bringing this case to its attention, the Supreme Court has complicated the minds of local government officials.

“If you’re a local official in any town or any state or any congress across America, you used to have a pretty good idea of what was allowed and what wasn’t,” he said. “Now this town of Greece case comes along and changes it.”

Garnett said no matter which way the court rules, religion will continue to play a role in everyday society.

He said Greece is upholding an American tradition of keeping faith engrained in public life. Religion is meant to be in the public sphere, he said, adding that religious education and formation should be left to the churches.

“In the United States, our tradition is to protect religious freedom by separating church and state, but not by saying religion should stay out of public life,” Garnett said. "We don't try to scrub public life clean of religiosity."

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @hscribner

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