As we consider the decision this week where the Supreme Court voted to permit “Sectarian prayers” in public government meetings, I am disappointed and concerned. First, were we even aware that this issue was being debated and decided? And second, there was the troubling statement by Justice Kennedy that “those who feel themselves excluded or disrespected by such religious invocations could simply ignore them.”
As our country has moved in a direction of being politically and verbally sensitive toward all segments of our society, Kennedy’s statement is at the least very insensitive, and seems to ram “this is a Christian country” down our throats. For sure, a delicate “line of separation” has been crossed.
Yes, it has long been practice for Congress to begin its sessions with religious leaders, including rabbis, to offer a prayer. But the “undeclared sensitivity” was that the clergyperson would offer a “neutral” prayer that did not invoke a specific religion’s name or concept of God. We don’t say: “We offer this prayer in the name of Adonai.” Or, “We offer this prayer in the name of Jesus or Allah.”
Over the years, I have probably done more than one-hundred invocations and benedictions, and always with sensitivity to an audience of people with diverse religions. On some level, this ruling declares “you no longer need to be so sensitive!” In a world facing so many serious issues today, and at a time when our world so desperately needs a strong and united America, I think that the five justices who voted for this measure have disgraced themselves and compromised our American vision of pluralism, mutual respect and unity.
Rabbi David Greenberg