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October 3, 2014 0

Sectarian Legislative Prayer – Walking In The Religious Minority’s Shoes

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent leg­isla­tive prayer deci­sion (Greece v. Gal­loway) gen­er­ally sanc­tions sec­tar­ian prayers before meet­ings of local leg­isla­tive bod­ies except for the most egre­gious cir­cum­stances.  In oppos­ing the Court’s deci­sion, Jus­tice Elana Kagan astutely con­cluded that “[w]hen the cit­i­zens of this coun­try approach their gov­ern­ment, they do so only as Amer­i­cans, not as mem­bers of one faith or another.  And that means that even in a partly leg­isla­tive body, they should not con­front government-sponsored wor­ship that divides them along reli­gious lines.”  At a recent county com­mis­sion meet­ing, a local com­mis­sioner may have expe­ri­enced the les­son of Jus­tice Kagan’s admonition.seal-of-escambia-county

The Escam­bia County, FL Com­mis­sion allows sec­tar­ian invo­ca­tions at its pub­lic meet­ings by a com­mu­nity mem­ber of any faith or reli­gion.  At the Sep­tem­ber 25th Com­mis­sion meet­ing, David Suhor, who is Pagan, recited a pagan prayer song “call­ing of the direc­tions north, east, south and west.”  Regard­ing his prayer, Mr. Suhor later stated “[i]n a way I would like for other peo­ple to expe­ri­ence what it’s like when I go to a meet­ing and am asked to pray against my conscience.”

Mr. Suhor’s prayer appar­ently offended at least one per­son in the room. Accord­ing to a news report, County Com­mis­sioner Wil­son Robert­son, “left the room because of his Chris­t­ian beliefs,” and he stated “[p]eople may not real­ize it, but when we invite some­one a min­is­ter to pray they are pray­ing for the county com­mis­sion­ers for us to make wise deci­sions and I’m just not going to have a pagan or satanic min­is­ter pray for me.”

ADL opposes sec­tar­ian leg­isla­tive prayer prac­tices because of the reli­gious exclu­sion and divi­sion result­ing from them – par­tic­u­larly for reli­gious minori­ties.  If the com­mis­sioner does not want a com­mu­nity mem­ber to pray for him in a faith that offends his con­science, per­haps he and other com­mis­sion mem­bers should adopt a moment of silence pol­icy or at least a non-sectarian invo­ca­tion policy.

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August 28, 2014 0

Town of Greece’s New Invocation Policy Excludes Religious Minorities

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent per­mis­sive leg­isla­tive prayer deci­sion (Greece v. Gal­loway) allows for sec­tar­ian invo­ca­tions at meet­ings of local leg­isla­tive bod­ies. Open­ing prayer prac­tices, how­ever, are not with­out limit. The deci­sion requires that a local leg­isla­tive body must imple­ment a non-discrimination pol­icy with respect to prayer givers.  The Town of Greece, New York —  a party to the Supreme Court case – recently adopted a new Town Board invo­ca­tion pol­icy.  This pol­icy cer­tainly vio­lates the spirit of the Greece decision’s non-discrimination man­date, but it is an open ques­tion whether it  actu­ally vio­lates it.supreme-court-civil-rights

The new pol­icy allows pri­vate cit­i­zens to sol­em­nize the pro­ceed­ings of the Town Board by offer­ing a “prayer, reflec­tive moment of silence, or a short sol­em­niz­ing mes­sage.”  How­ever, the per­son pro­vid­ing the sol­em­niz­ing mes­sage must be an appointed rep­re­sen­ta­tive of  “an assem­bly that reg­u­larly meet[s] for the pri­mary pur­pose of shar­ing a reli­gious per­spec­tive.”  The assem­bly must either be located within Greece, or it can be located out­side of town if a res­i­dent reg­u­larly attends the assem­bly and requests its inclu­sion on an offi­cial “Assem­blies List.”

The term “reli­gious per­spec­tive” cer­tainly encom­passes minor­ity faiths and non-believers.  Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeat­edly ruled that athe­ism and eth­i­cal human­ism are sin­cerely held reli­gious beliefs.  How­ever, while there may be Athe­ists, Bud­dhists, Eth­i­cal Human­ists, Jews, Mus­lims, Sikhs or other reli­gious minori­ties resid­ing in Greece, they may not have a con­gre­ga­tion within or prox­i­mate to town.  So the new pol­icy effec­tively deprives reli­gious minori­ties from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the invo­ca­tion oppor­tu­nity.   This is one rea­son why ADL views leg­isla­tive prayer prac­tices as divi­sive and poor pub­lic pol­icy.  If the Town of Greece truly wants to be inclu­sive and live up to the spirit of the Supreme Court’s non-discrimination require­ment, it should give all res­i­dents a true oppor­tu­nity to sol­em­nize Town Board proceedings.

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August 9, 2013 1

An Apology For Discrimination – And A Lesson For The Future

August 10 marks the 25th anniver­sary of the enact­ment of the Civil Lib­er­ties Act, which pro­vided a for­mal apol­ogy for grave mis­treat­ment of Japanese-Americans dur­ing World War II. civil-liberties-act-manzanar-relocation-center

The sur­prise attack on Pearl Har­bor in Decem­ber 1941 incited wide­spread fear and inse­cu­rity across the coun­try.   In response to the par­tic­u­lar fear that Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese ances­try might pose a threat to the U.S., Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt signed Exec­u­tive Order 9066 on Feb­ru­ary 19, 1942, the first step in the forced relo­ca­tion and incar­cer­a­tion of 120,000 Japanese-Americans.

Japanese-Americans who were incar­cer­ated in the camps through­out the west­ern United States were forcibly uprooted from their com­mu­ni­ties, sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies and their homes and lost their per­sonal lib­er­ties and free­doms until the end of the war – with­out any con­crete evi­dence of their alleged dis­loy­alty to America.

Unfor­tu­nately, a bad sit­u­a­tion was made worse when Con­gress enacted a law in March 1942, autho­riz­ing a civil prison term and fine for a civil­ian con­victed of vio­lat­ing a mil­i­tary order.  The con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of these acts was chal­lenged in two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, Hirabayashi v. U.S. and Kore­matsu v. U.S.   But the wartime Supreme Court upheld the con­vic­tions, writ­ing that forced dis­place­ment and incar­cer­a­tion of Japanese-Americans were within the war pow­ers of Con­gress and jus­ti­fied by the need to pro­tect America’s national security.

In 1981, the Com­mis­sion on Wartime Relo­ca­tion and Intern­ment of Civil­ians held hear­ings to inves­ti­gate the treat­ment of Japanese-Americans, and it pub­lished its report, Per­sonal Jus­tice Denied, in 1983.  At that time, Kore­matsu, Hirabayashi and a third Japanese-American cit­i­zen, William Hohri, peti­tioned for for­mal review of their con­vic­tions.  ADL filed an ami­cus brief in Hohri v. United States, urg­ing the Court to reverse these con­vic­tions so as to pre­vent future civil lib­er­ties vio­la­tions by the government.

The Civil Lib­er­ties Act of 1988 for­mally rec­og­nized and apol­o­gized for these ter­ri­ble wartime injus­tices, and paid repa­ra­tions to an esti­mated 60,000 sur­viv­ing Japanese-Americans who were affected. ADL tes­ti­fied in sup­port of the leg­is­la­tion. The Act set an impor­tant stan­dard for account­abil­ity and for tak­ing national respon­si­bil­ity for past injustices.

Now, 25 years after the pas­sage of the Civil Lib­er­ties Act, the League has updated a com­pre­hen­sive class­room cur­ricu­lum on the wartime treat­ment of Japanese-Americans, includ­ing video his­to­ries of Japanese-American internees, and back­ground resources on Exec­u­tive Order 9066 and the Civil Lib­er­ties Act.  

The anniver­sary pro­vides a teach­able moment to reflect on how our nation can address past injus­tices – and an oppor­tu­nity to reded­i­cate our­selves to the ongo­ing work to con­front the dan­gers of stereo­typ­ing, dis­crim­i­na­tion, prej­u­dice, hate vio­lence, and racial pro­fil­ing.  Espe­cially as we con­front these and other daunt­ing chal­lenges today, it is clear that all Amer­i­cans have a stake in remem­ber­ing – and learn­ing lessons – from the past.

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