On November 9, 2013, in a post entitled “A Greece Fire,” I reported to you concerning the case of Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, in which a small community in upstate New York was sued because of its town council’s practice of commencing its meetings with a brief prayer. Galloway, on the right below, is Jewish, and her co-plaintiff, Stephens, is a self-described atheist. The two objected that the Christian prayers offered were “offensive,” “intolerable,” and an affront to “a diverse community.” They argued that the township was in violation of the Establishment Clause.

I predicted that the decision would be 5 to 4, with the swing vote belonging to Justice Anthony Kennedy. I also predicted that the precedent of Marsh v. Chambers (1983), in which the Court upheld the practice of legislative prayer in Nebraska, could very well be employed in the township’s favor. I hit the bull’s-eye on all counts. The United States Supreme Court handed down a 5 to 4 decision, with Justice Kennedy writing for the majority. Justices Breyer, Bader-Ginsberg, Kagan, and Sotomayor all weighed in against the practice, as I believed they would. 

So prayer in governmental assemblies lives on, at least for the time being, albeit by the thinnest of margins. 

Less than a week later, in another post entitled “Government-Coerced Photography,” I reflected upon the case of Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, which arose in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The photography studio was sued by Vanessa Willock, a lesbian, who had requested the studio to take photographs of her and her same-sex partner’s commitment ceremony.  The studio’s chief photographer and owner, Elaine Huguenin, refused to do so on the ground that same-sex sexual relationships are not in accord with her religious principles and values. She lost at both the trial and appellate levels in New Mexico and, thereafter, requested the United States Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction of her case. On April 7, 2014, the Court declined to hear the case. I had thought there was a strong likelihood that the Court would grant certiorari, although I did not go so far as to predict that it would do so.  The Court’s refusal to hear the case is a message to Huguenin and her husband (pictured at left) that, as Christian business-owners opposing homosexual sex, they may now appeal only to God for justice. 

Neither of these outcomes is, in my view, reason to celebrate. They both chip away at traditional American culture. First, if a person owns a business and desires it to be a reflection of his or her Christian beliefs, those beliefs are sure to be trumped by the notion of “marriage equality” and gay rights in general, which are now protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. This state of affairs is, for many Christians and members of other religious groups, repressive, deplorable, and ultimately tyrannical. Second, a single vote on the Court, the equivalent of a judicial shoestring, presently supports the legality of prayer in a town council venue. If the membership of the Court shifts ever so slightly to the left, this could change almost instantaneously. 

Moving on . . .

This week I was also captivated by the fact that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided to decline her invitation to speak at the 2014 commencement ceremonies of Rutgers University in New Jersey. A group of professors and students at that university were engaged to protest her high-level involvement in the Iraq War. Not desiring to endure this discomfort, Secretary Rice declined with a “thanks, but no thanks.” 

It is apparently expecting too much these days for members of a university community to sit and to listen respectfully to a speaker with whom they disagree politically. Professors and students discourse in glowing terms about “academic freedom” for themselves, but won’t hesitate to threaten, belittle, and shout others off the speaker's dais.  Universities, for those who don’t know them well, are anything but venues of freedom. I view most of them as bastions of social ignorance and intolerance, as well as a marvelous breeding ground for liberal fascism.

To illustrate my point, engage in a mental experiment with me. Assume that Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy were miraculously revivified and returned to American public life for a week. It isn’t far-fetched to think that there would be the same mindless gaggle of professors and students protesting each of these men as a commencement speaker. Can’t you imagine the substance of their revolting protests? Here's what would probably be said:

“George Washington covertly spearheaded the attempt to manufacture a brand new Constitution instead of revising the Articles of Confederation. The man was lawless and, furthermore, dishonest. Besides, he was a slave owner. He even illegitimately interjected the superstition of religion into the presidential oath of office by adding to it ‘so help me God.’ The Constitution was meant to be ‘godless,’ but Washington subverted it. No, I veto Washington!” 

“Thomas Jefferson was responsible for trade embargoes that curtailed citizens’ economic freedom. He also was a slave owner, who refused to free his slaves upon his death. There is also the Sally Hemings affair, which demonstrates the depth of the man’s depravity and hypocrisy! Jefferson, in addition, thought nothing of bowdlerizing portions of David Hume’s work, and this is an academic offense as serious as plagiarism. No, for God’s sake, Jefferson won’t do!” 

“Abraham Lincoln didn’t take the high road on slavery either. He was not an abolitionist and, in fact, placed the emancipation of slaves at the end of his list of priorities. Despite his inflated rhetoric, he was little more than an opportunist! He also unconstitutionally suspended habeas corpus and was, in this respect, as criminal as George W. Bush. No, Lincoln is unsuitable as a commencement speaker in a free university!” 

“Franklin Roosevelt placed Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II, and failed to grant visas to European Jews who were being persecuted by the Third Reich. He failed miserably on these two monumental issues involving human rights. He was likewise a chauvinist to the day he died, entertaining his paramour in Warm Springs, Georgia, in his wife’s absence. No one, perhaps, is more objectionable than Roosevelt!” 

“John Kennedy began American involvement in Vietnam.  To have him speak would do nothing more than re-open the wounds of that sordid conflict. Plus, we should remember that he chose Lyndon Johnson as his vice-president, to be one heartbeat away from the presidency. Johnson escalated the war to the fullest. No, Kennedy’s appearance would serve only to exhume tragic memories.” 

Probably the safest bet for a commencement-day speaker, given the countless jesters in academe, would be an icon of popular culture, such as Madonna, Eminem, or Tupak. Can’t you hear the exchange between professors and students? “Yeah, man, like that would be cool, especially if combined with a little high-quality weed. Hell yeah, that rocks!” 

What’s happening in most arenas of American life may be summarized in one word – decline.  The social engineers on the far left have forever confused change with reform. They've been myopically doing so since the time of Edmund Burke, who carefully noted their errors of political judgment in his book, Reflections on the Revolution in France. So many of the changes that have occurred through government, including by way of judicial decisions, which have influenced civil society and helped to erode institutions such as family, church, and school, were in the beginning touted as salvific reforms. Now, they can be seen for what they are, altogether calamitous. American citizens are currently living in and with social and political chaos and dislocation. Traditional American culture – that which held us together as a people for centuries -- is being murdered incrementally, and few seem to care.

May 6, 2014