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May 5th, 2014 -

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The Supreme Court got it right.
But your city, town, or village still shouldn't do it.

It's just not illegal.

Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that starting public meetings with prayer isn't unconstitutional. Which I would hope that any clear-thinking person would agree with, provided of course that they understand what SCOTUS actually does, and have a reasonable familiarity with the Constitution, though in my experience those have a lot in common with those polls about who is a good driver. EVERYBODY thinks they are both a good driver, and that they understand the law and role of the court. However, neither is usually true. Watch an episode of “Cops”, and usually a bloodied, drunken man in an undershirt is being dragged someplace in handcuffs loudly exclaiming that he “knows his rights.” Clearly some people are good at neither.

But the while the ruling is in my opinion correct, a unit of local governance which chooses to adopt the practice of opening meetings with prayer is making a serious mistake. Not because it's illegal, but from a matter of poor taste. One thing easily forgotten from the debates of clause and provision is that the document which guides our national hand is in part designed to protect not the wishes of the majority against the whole, but any minority from the rule of the mob. So where religious issues infringe upon the rights of a minority, whether racial, ethnic, gender-based, or sexual, the law provides redress or relief. But where it does NOT, it does not. Unlike the laws in some countries, such as France, offending someone isn't usually taken into consideration (although I seem to recall that my home state of Illinois has seven different types of mental or emotional distress you can sue someone for). One of the key statements in today's ruling is that of Justice Kennedy, “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” he wrote. His statements elsewhere in his opinion were less enlightened, such as suggesting that those of other faiths were unlikely to be offended. Respectfully, I'd suggest that those as isolated and out of touch with daily existence as those who sit upon that bench refrain from telling those of us who actually are out here what we will and won't be offended by. So much of what bothers us is at least in part because we already begin each and every day 90% angry (with apologies to my father for paraphrasing something he wrote about a different topic) so the next thing is often the proverbial last straw.

When we attend public meetings, and for an example I'll use those in my current hometown, which is quite small, and which is openly considering moving to the practice of opening their meetings with public prayer, the vast majority of the people who sit on the board and who sit in the audience, are pretty much on the verge of disorder. Open and loud resentment is commonplace, and a fistfight is said to have broken out in the vestibule in the last few years. In the two years I've lived here, I've not had a single discussion about any local figure that wasn't accompanied by startlingly aggressive language. The difference has just been for which side. In the past two weeks, I've heard five people claim that the a certain two people are “puppets”, charmingly enough each time for each other or others. Clearly the only common perspective is rage. Opening a meeting with prayer will, without question, offend some people. Just because you might personally not be offended, or not easily understand why another person might be is no answer. No offense, but you were not appointed to arbitrate all public disputes. You do not possess an unerring ability to understand all people. Those people, actions, thoughts, and feelings which you do not understand are not irrational simply because YOU do not understand them. That IS part of the freedom you are granted, but in turn must also accept that is outlined in our Constitution. If you adopt prayer before meetings in your town, you WILL have some offended people. I suppose we could go for an evenhanded approach, and follow up the prayer with a few jokes spread around different groups to ensure equal offense. That way we can all start off at the same level of angst and resentment. Maybe ethnic jokes tonight, and some fat jokes next week? Maybe the week after some of those that start with different nationalities hiding in trees during World War II?

Most of those offended will not say anything. But if you think those bothered by it won't feel, judge the issues, speak, act, and most of all vote with the silent grain of resentment taking a role in the process, then you are perhaps too naive to serve in local government, though often times that seems to actually be the sole qualification for doing so.

So today SCOTUS did exactly what they are intended to do, which is to clarify and define federal law, as written by the Congress. If you don't like a law, it's probably poorly written. Most are. Get Congress to write a better one and SCOTUS can improve it. But don't look to SCOTUS to define taste, morality, justice, good ideas vs. bad ones, or anything OTHER than the foggy areas of federal law. Yes, believe it or not, morality and justice are not things the Supreme Court really is supposed to deal with. Most lawyers will tell you law isn't about justice, it's about the law. This ruling states that your local government is still free to offend you in any number of ways, including this one. But that doesn't mean it's nice, productive, or even wise to do so. In our country, one of your first freedoms granted is to be free to be an idiot.
[Your-choice(s)-here] Bless America.

A Few Pictures of Mine

To begin with, some of my favorites from amongst my photography. A picture of a fair carney, some penguins made from flowers, a street shot of a restaurant worker, and an old bridge over the Des Plaines River.

Accompanying are a portrait of a former student of mine, a classic car in Geneva, IL., a young cyclist in urban territory, and workers preparing carnival rides.

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