Will Barton

Ostracization

I’m finally reading through the Supreme Court’s Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway ruling, and it’s a dismaying and infuriating combination of disdain and ignorance toward non-Christians and atheists.

Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy. And should they remain, their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed. Neither choice represents an unconstitutional imposition as to mature adults, who “presumably” are “not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure.” Marsh, 463 U. S., at 7921

Clearly Justice Kennedy has never actually refused to bow his head during a prayer, much less left a room. He thinks that self-ostracization is a perfectly acceptable solution.

There are two very different sensations I’ve personally experienced during public prayers. First there’s the pronounced internal feeling of exclusion: everyone around me is participating in a ritual that I am not a part of, that I cannot be a part of because I simply cannot believe. I cannot accept the fundamental basis for the ritual. Second is the shrinking sensation when people around me notice that I haven’t participated.

Now, most of the time I’ve experienced this have been in situations I’ve had the option not to place myself in, where I had full awareness that there would likely be prayer (my experience has been Christian and Jewish). It was my choice to get a degree from a private college with a Catholic history, which had a prayer at the commencement ceremony that I was under no obligation to attend, for example.

However, if there is prayer at public, government functions that I must attend if I wish to exercise my democratic rights… that’s another matter altogether. Justice Kennedy, with the help of Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, has gutted the first two clauses of the First Amendment, condoning the ostracization of nonbelievers while insultingly suggesting self-ostracization as the solution.


  1. Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U.S. ___ (2014). ↩︎