kitchen table math, the sequel: Justice Burger's dissent in Wallace vs. Jaffree

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Justice Burger's dissent in Wallace vs. Jaffree

from Justice Burger's dissent in Wallace vs. Jaffree
Some who trouble to read the opinions in these cases will find it ironic-perhaps even bizarre-that on the very day we heard arguments in the cases, the Court's session opened with an invocation for Divine protection. Across the park a few hundred yards away, the House of Representatives and the Senate regularly open each session with a prayer. These legislative prayers are not just one minute in duration, but are extended, thoughtful invocations and prayers for Divine guidance. They are given, as they have been since 1789, by clergy appointed as official chaplains and paid from the Treasury of the United States. Congress has also provided chapels in the Capitol, at public expense, where Members and others may pause for prayer, meditation--or a moment of silence.


I make several points about today's curious holding.

(a) It makes no sense to say that Alabama has "endorsed prayer" by merely enacting a new statute "to specify expressly that voluntary prayer is one of the authorized activities during a moment of silence," ante, at 77 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment) (emphasis added). To suggest that a moment-of-silence statute that includes the word "prayer" unconstitutionally endorses religion, while one that simply provides for a moment of silence does not, manifests not neutrality but hostility toward religion. For decades our opinions have stated that hostility toward any religion or toward all religions is as much forbidden by the Constitution as is an official establishment of religion. The Alabama Legislature has no more "endorsed" religion than a state or the Congress does when it provides for legislative chaplains, or than this Court does when it opens each session with an invocation to God. Today's decision recalls the observations of Justice Goldberg:
"[U]ntutored devotion to the concept of neutrality can lead to invocation or approval of results which partake not simply of that noninterference and noninvolvement with the religious which the Constitution commands, but of a brooding and pervasive dedication to the secular and a passive, or even active, hostility to the religious. Such results are not only not compelled by the Constitution, but, it seems to me, are prohibited by it." Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 306 (1963) (concurring opinion).

(c) The Court's extended treatment of the "test" of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971), suggests a naive preoccupation with an easy, bright-line approach for addressing constitutional issues. We have repeatedly cautioned that Lemon did not establish a rigid caliper capable of resolving every Establishment Clause issue, but that it sought only to provide "signposts." "In each [Establishment Clause] case, the inquiry calls for line-drawing; no fixed, per se rule can be framed." Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 678 (1984)....In any event, our responsibility is not to apply tidy formulas by rote; our duty is to determine whether the statute or practice at issue is a step toward establishing a state religion.

Given today's decision, however, perhaps it is understandable that the opinions in support of the judgment all but ignore the Establishment Clause itself and the concerns that underlie it.

(d) The notion that the Alabama statute is a step toward creating an established church borders on, if it does not trespass into, the ridiculous. The statute does not remotely threaten religious liberty; it affirmatively furthers the values of religious freedom and tolerance that the Establishment Clause was designed to protect. Without pressuring those who do not wish to pray, the statute simply creates an opportunity to think, to plan, or to pray if one wishes--as Congress does by providing chaplains and chapels.


If the government may not accommodate religious needs when it does so in a wholly neutral and noncoercive manner, the "benevolent neutrality" that we have long considered the correct constitutional standard will quickly translate into the "callous indifference" that the Court has consistently held the Establishment Clause does not require. The Court today has ignored the wise admonition of Justice Goldberg that "the measure of constitutional adjudication is the ability and willingness to distinguish between real threat and mere shadow." Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 308 (concurring opinion). The innocuous statute that the Court strikes down does not even rise to the level of "mere shadow." JUSTICE O'CONNOR paradoxically acknowledges: "It is difficult to discern a serious threat to religious liberty from a room of silent, thoughtful schoolchildren." Ante, at 73. 5 I would add to that, "even if they choose to pray."

The mountains have labored and brought forth a mouse.
and see:
the Establishment Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Wallace vs Jaffree
the Lemon test
Lemon v. Kurzman 
Lemon test

Justice Rehnquist lists "unprincipled" and "inconsistent" decisions
Justice Rehnquist on school prayer and the Constitution
Jefferson's "wall of separation"
Justice Burger's dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree
Benjamin Cardozo on metaphors in law

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