Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Greece v. Galloway is potentially disastrous for state-church separation. This decision could be the equivalent of Dred Scott or Plessy for our cause. FFRF’s new “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” award/contest is a great incentive and call to action and I hope that hundreds or thousands of citizen activists will take up the challenge. As an activist who has openly protested public prayer on many occasions, I offer the following opinion and suggestions for others to consider going forward.
Justice Kennedy’s argument provided substantial reasoning to strike down Marsh v Chambers and prohibit government-sponsored prayer altogether, but his conclusion was all wrong. With this ruling the high court has opened the door for local majority religions (and religious thugs) to take over city and state government proceedings. “Majority rule” is not democracy and this ill-thought decision should give supporters of Christian prayer pause in light of America’s rapidly shifting demographics. Public prayers will not always be Christian, especially in cities like Dearborn, Mich., which has a growing Muslim majority, or Clearwater, Fla., that has a majority of Scientology followers. These and other influential religions will begin to assert themselves in isolated areas where Christianity is not the majority religion.
In light of yesterday’s dreadful ruling, we, and all activists, will have to fight harder and smarter. We will need to lodge more complaints, write more letters, conduct more protests, and bring more lawsuits. No matter how long it takes, Greece v. Galloway must be overturned. Although the nonsectarian argument has been lost for now, the situation does not mean that citizens and activists must remain silent or acquiesce to sectarian prayers without expressing disapproval or objection. Activists may still take one or more of the following paths.
Complaints may take many forms, but include writing letters or sending email to government officials responsible for allowing sectarian prayers or otherwise offensive prayers. Complaints may also be lodged publicly, writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper.
2. Demand diversity and inclusion
Activists and/or religious minorities should and must demand that government officials make room for religious diversity, including opportunities for secular voices to be heard.
3. Voice or otherwise express disapproval or objection
When the public is made captive or invited to participate in public prayers, this very act opens a limited opportunity for immediate petition for a redress of grievances. If members of the public are allowed to voice approval in any way (e.g., by answering “Amen” after a prayer or by applauding or cheering after invocations), the public must also be allowed to voice disapproval (e.g., by booing, making thumbs down gestures, blowing a raspberry, or by making other audible sounds signifying disapproval).
The government may not allow positive feedback or approval while at the same time prohibiting negative feedback or disapproval. It’s all or nothing. Total silence or every voice must be heard. Citizens may also express disapproval by remaining seated when urged to stand or by looking up or straight ahead when asked to bow. Citizens may also abruptly walk out of government proceedings and then make an auspicious re-entry as soon as the prayer has ended. Creative activists will find ways to express themselves in these circumstances.
4. Public mockery
If after the above actions have been taken, the government continues to insult atheists and/or religious minorities with sectarian prayers, activists may turn to public mockery and ridicule. One example is the “prayer mockery hat.” Activist can easily make a brightly colored hat with large ear muffs and dark sunglasses. Wording on the cap could say: “I OBJECT TO PRAYER!” Then, as soon as the pastor or chaplain has been introduced, activists can put on their “prayer mockery hat” with exaggeration and then remain seated throughout the prayer, completely ignoring the pastor until finished. Activists can also mount a small GoPro-style camera to their cap to record the response for posting on Facebook or Youtube.com.
In spite of the disastrous ruling, the fight is not over. We must not submit to this subjugation of our constitutional right to be free FROM unwanted religious intrusion by government. Indeed, “Nothing Fails Like Prayer,” so let us use reason and our constitutional rights of free speech, free association, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances to our full advantage.
FFRF Member and State-Church Activist