Berger on Town of Greece and Praying While Smoking

The inimitable Peter Berger has this column on Town of Greece v. Galloway. Here’s the cleverly charming beginning:

In a Benedictine monastery there is a chain smoker. He smokes all the time. He smokes during work, during meals, even during communal prayers. He says that he would become seriously ill if he stopped. The abbot is solicitous about the smoker’s addiction, but this has become such a scandal that he feels constrained to consult the relevant authorities in Rome. He asks, “May one smoke while one prays?” Rome doesn’t act quickly, but after a few months the answer comes back –“No, one may not.” It so happens that a Jesuit is visiting on the day the reply from Rome arrives and the abbot tells him the story. The Jesuit thinks for a moment, and says: “You asked Rome the wrong question. What you should have asked—May one pray while one smokes?”

One could say that, in a decision of May 5, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States was guided by Jesuit logic.

Court Reinstates Disenrolled Cadet’s Establishment Clause Claim

A federal court has reinstated the Establishment Clause claim of a West Point cadet who was disenrolled for plagiarism and related honor code violations.  As part of the cadet’s punishment, he had been ordered by a panel to “stand with his body rigid in a military posture and to read aloud the ‘Cadet’s Prayer'”:

Oh God, our Father, Thou Searcher of human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth.  May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural . . . . Help us . . . in doing our duty to Thee[.]

The Secretary of the Army had dismissed the cadet’s Establishment Clause claim for lack of standing.  The court (DDC) disagreed and reinstated the claim, holding that the cadet had alleged an injury in fact.

The case is Spadone v. McHugh, 2012 WL 2017973 (D.D.C. June 6, 2012).

The Memorial Day Prayer for Peace

Monday is Memorial Day in the United States, a national holiday. The day commemorates the men and women who have died serving in the US military. There will be speeches, parades, picnics and wreath-layings across the country.

There will also be an officially-promoted prayer. By law, the President “is requested” each year to issue a proclamation “calling on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace.” The proclamation is supposed to designate a time on Memorial Day for the prayer and invite the media to participate. This year’s proclamation, issued yesterday, reads in part as follows:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time to unite in prayer. I also ask all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.

I’m not sure why, but the Memorial Day Prayer for Peace hasn’t drawn the same attention as the yearly presidential Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. Perhaps this is because the Memorial Day prayer is a more recent phenomenon, dating, like the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, only from the 1950s. Perhaps people are too busy enjoying their picnics to notice. In any event, notwithstanding the Court’s occasional pronouncements about the need to avoid even generic official endorsements of religion, non-sectarian endorsements like the Memorial Day prayer are very much a part of the American constitutional tradition. Americans, on the whole, seem to like them and want them to continue. Happy Memorial Day.