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In her much-admired dissent to the recent Supreme Court decision allowing town boards to open their meetings with sectarian prayer, Justice Elena Kagan demonstrated a crude, reductionist view of the nature of religious diversity in America. Kagan repeatedly described Christianity as “a single faith,” ignoring the vast differences among various Christian denominations that have fueled the most consequential religious conflicts in the nation’s history. Because she views Christian faith as an undifferentiated, monolithic blob, she portrays that complex religious tradition as uniquely domineering and distinctly dangerous.

In her impassioned opinion (in Town of Greece v. Galloway), Kagan laments the fact that the citizens of a small city in upstate New York heard “month in and month out for over a decade, prayers steeped in only one faith.” In other words, the fact that city officials invited “Chaplains of the Month” from more than a dozen disparate denominations– ranging from Catholic to Baptist, from Pentecostal Assemblies of God to liberal Methodists — did nothing to prevent Kagan from declaring that the opening prayers “always identified with a single religion.” Later, she indignantly denounced a town board that selects “prayergivers who will reliably speak in the voice of Christianity, and so places itself behind a single creed.”
Never mind the fact that the inclusive church directory for the Town of Greece shows a wide variety of Christian congregations, but not a single Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or other non-Christian place of worship operating within the city limits; she still blames city officials for failing to “involve, accommodate, or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions.”

This designation of Christianity as a single, unified faith community might surprise the more than five million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the United States, who chafe at the idea that most other denominations still refuse to accept them as Christians. It might also produce a bemused reaction on the part of the more than 15 million American Pentecostals who are regularly mocked and derided by other elements in the Christian world for their exaltation of “gifts of the spirit” like speaking in tongues. Above all, Kagan’s prose remains stubbornly blind to the huge historical chasm between Catholics and Protestants which has constituted the most important religious divide in American history.
As early as 1655, Catholics and Puritans fought the bloody “Battle of the Severn” for control of the colony of Maryland. Less than 200 years later the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in the blistering summer of 1844 became the most devastating religion-based pogroms in the nation’s history, claiming at least 15 lives, with more than 50 grievously injured and a dozen church-buildings destroyed; it took the mobilization of more than 5,000 militia troops to finally quell the violence. Whatever the persistent fears of Anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia,” no major political party ever arose based primarily on hostility to Jews or Muslims. But the virulently anti-Catholic American Party (or “Know Nothings”) flourished in the 1850’s, capturing governorships and prominent positions in Congress, while winning 22 percent of the popular vote for their presidential candidate (former President Millard Fillmore) in 1856.
This history matters, because the admirable pluralism that the nation began to achieve in the later years of the nineteenth century involved a truce among squabbling Christian denominations, not so much accommodation between those denominations and the tiny minority (never more than 5 percent) who never affiliated with the Christian tradition. When the Founders crafted the First Amendment and decreed that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the legislative history makes it clear that they sought to prevent one Christian denomination from gaining precedence over all the others, not to deny or repeal the new nation’s indelible Christian character.

In a sense, Kagan’s view of Christianity (in an opinion signed by the court’s other two Jewish justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer) provided a mirror image of the mistaken impression of the Jewish community by many or our well-meaning Christian neighbors. I’m always amazed, for instance, by my otherwise well-informed non-Jewish friends who assume that virtually all Jews share common values and religious priorities, thinking that we universally try to avoid ham, teach our children Hebrew, or consider support for Israel a personal imperative. Unfortunately, no such unanimity exists on any item of belief or practice, and the theological gap between an Orthodox rabbi and his Reform counterpart will be at least as wide and broad as the division between that Reform clergyman and his colleagues in similarly liberal Christian denominations, like the Unitarians or the United Church of Christ. Woody Allen and I both count ourselves as Jewish but I can’t think of a single point of ethics, observance, politics or philosophy on which we agree; and I even find myself disliking many (but not all) of his movies.
Of course, the divisions within the vast Christian community (representing more than 85 percent of the US population) count as even more significant and substantial than the disagreements within the miniscule Jewish community (that amounts to 1.8 percent of the populace). Today, the advancing tide of militant secularism has encouraged many Christian churches to cooperate on issues like abortion and the defense of traditional marriage, constructively transcending even the traditional Catholic-Protestant divide that once polarized the public and claimed literally millions of lives in brutal European conflicts. Whatever spirit of unity Kagan now perceives among Christians represents progress for pluralism, not a threat to it. Contrary to the short-sighted view of the honorable Justice, the flourishing Christian America of today– exemplified by the varied pastors and priests who led prayers in Greece, New York– offers a demonstration of wholesome diversity in action rather than the danger of dominance by any single denomination.

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  1. Lyle Dockendorf  •  May 15, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    It appears that significant factions of the Liberal movement favor establishing Atheism as the State Religion. These attacks we’re seeing against Christianity (e.g. prohibiting “Merry Christmas” and public crèches, abolishing town prayer, and overriding freedom of conscience issues regarding homosexuality normalization and abortion opposition) are symptomatic. They must be vigorously opposed, or those Liberals will succeed in rewriting–through “reinterpretation”–another part of the Constitution.

    • American  •  May 15, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      I agree with you Lyle.

    • Robert Ellis  •  May 22, 2014 at 10:39 am

      Homosexual people should be encouraged to enjoy the sacrament of married life. Conservative people need to understand that homosexuality poses no threat to heterosexual people, nor does homosexual marriage pose any threat to heterosexual marriage. Both heterosexuality and homosexuality are two different ways God designs us sexually. Homosexuality appears usually in about 10 percent of a given human population. The remaining 90 percent of heterosexual people have nothing to fear. We all need to be open to each other and to realize that we are all God’s children, and that diversity in sexual orientation is a gift from our Creator who luxuriates in creative variety.

      • Rose  •  May 23, 2014 at 5:32 pm

        Robert Ellis – the facts do not support your opinions. In reality, every single major world religion identifies homosexual behavior as wrong/immoral. There are several scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments that use strong language against homosexual behavior and St. Paul writes about the negative consequences of homosexual behavior in Romans 1 and also includes it in the list of behaviors of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God in another epistle he wrote.

        Any medical doctor who specializes in diseases of the rectum and anus, which homosexuals use like a vagina, will testify that homosexuals bring many negative consequences down upon themselves for their behaviors, which BTW is what Paul wrote as part of Romans 1. Feces are an inherent part of using that part of the body like a vagina.

        Part of being a Far Left liberal is repeatedly ignoring the inconvenient facts/truths about any issue they support.

        At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Democrats booed God, so it is not surprising that almost every Democrat supported major issue is an issue that historically people of every culture that ever existed except for the hedonistic Romans perhaps, identified as immoral in the past.

        Discussing the inconvenient truths about homosexuality is so disgusting to so many people that opponents of same sex marriage never seem to raise these inconvenient truths as a reason why they oppose same sex marriage.

      • Reb Bacchus  •  May 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm

        I’m sorry, but a few facts dispute your claim. First only the now debunked Kinsey Report found 10% of any population to be gay, and used prisoners to get that number. Most studies find the real number between 1-3% with the higher number including bi-sexuals.

        Second, only much disputed research done on a tiny sample found any physical evidence to support homosexual inclinations. This is echoed by the gay community position on the subject. You always hear, “with all the problems no one would ‘CHOOSE’ to be gay!” Yet you never hear any support for research into trying to find a “fix” supposed genetic cause of homosexuality. It’s the only genetic problem that should never be “cured!” Funny, I’ve never heard anyone say, “God wanted those folks to have XXXX genetic disease so let’s not look for a cure.”

        As a citizen I’ll defend your right to be gay, but as a Christian, I have to warn you it’s I sin to practice it. I’m a sinner, I regularly look at my brother-in-laws RV and think it would look better at my house, breaking one of the big 10, a “worst” sin than practicing homosexuality. However, a still worst sin is deceiving someone into thinking a sin is not a sin. So, as one sinner to another, be careful and may God bless you.

      • Jim  •  May 23, 2014 at 5:52 pm

        We now have (it seems) two gods. The God of the righteous and the god of the homo sexual. There appears to be a contradiction. Isn’t homosexuality a weakness in man’s natural behavior and INTRINSICALLY wrong….The minority under judicial politics is shoving something down humanities throat and calls it equality…The Sacrament of Marriage is Sacred….Mutual masturbation is not but a selfish act.


      • SJohnson  •  May 23, 2014 at 6:54 pm

        Robert I do not think God intended that gays be included as something that is to be accepted as a correct way of life, it is wrong no matter what anyone says.and to all of you who will respond with your opinion on gays sorry but the idea of it being compared to all the rest of the 10 commandments and that we don’t follow those, well I say can I go into a store and take that fresh baked chicken along with a soda for lunch without paying.
        I don’t care what you do in the privacy of your home just don’t want to be forced to accept something that is wrong just like stealing and all the rest of the 10 so save your time as I will not bow to your ideas

      • Snake  •  May 25, 2014 at 11:23 pm

        The homosexual population is only 1.2-1.5 percent of the total American population (Source = CDC) Of that population 20 + Percent are infected with HIV/AIDS. (Source = CDC) Because they cannot reproduce they must entice others to enjoy their behavior. It is a choice they make. There was never any “gay gene” as was touted but then found to be false. Other STDS such as Syph and Gon are in an exponential elevated infection rate in the homosexual community. When they state, “we are the same as you.” No, you are not, I have no intention of having intercourse with another male.

        Biological speaking (now as a scientist) If homosexually is normal, and if our entire population was to embrace homosexually behavior, within 3 and 4 at the most generations, there would be no Homo sapiens remaining on the planet. Because of the lack of reproduction our species would be lost in the annals of time.

        The infection rates of homosexuals for STD, and other forms of sexually illness, is much higher and more deadly then with heterosexuals. (source = CDC) Thus attempting to equate homosexual behavior with Heterosexuals, is not a stretch, but a total fabrication of the truth.

        Liberals attempt to justify homosexuals with this comment. “Homosexuals have been around since the beginning of time so we must accept it.” Using the same logic we can reply thus., Murders, Rapists, Thiefs’ Kidnappings and slavery (which by the by, the Muslims still practice today) have been around since eons of time, so WE MUST ACCEPT this behavior also.

        When approached by a homosexual and called “homophobic” I simply reply, I fear no queer, but you are MORALITY PHOBIC!

  2. Brian  •  May 20, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    “It appears that significant factions of the Liberal movement favor establishing Atheism as the State Religion”.

    Well, actually, atheist hold that there should be no state religion.

    “These attacks we’re seeing against Christianity (e.g. prohibiting “Merry Christmas” and public crèches, abolishing town prayer, and overriding freedom of conscience issues regarding homosexuality normalization and abortion opposition) are symptomatic”.

    Yes they are a symptom of living in a free and open society. No one is prohibiting anyone from saying “Merry Christmas”, this is part of the “War on Christmas” myth that is being promoted by a certain television channel for the purposes of drumming up viewership and selling advertising time. Towns should not have prayers. Towns are not churches and they are not religions. The citizens of a town can pray to their hearts content. You may oppose giving women the right to make their own choices and promote homophobia all you want, but don’t be surprised if some of your fellow citizens may disagree with you.

    “They must be vigorously opposed, or those Liberals will succeed in rewriting–through “reinterpretation”–another part of the Constitution”.

    Wow….so much for freedom. You don’t mind if someone has another opinion, do you?

    • Robert Ellis  •  May 22, 2014 at 10:51 am

      Hello Brian. I think the main problem is that religious people are being prevented from expressing their faith in public settings and that is simply not what the Founders intended when they crafted the First Amendment. Preventing any kind of religious expression from appearing in public settings is both an abridgement of religious freedom and an implicit privileging of secular, non-religious experience. Both religious and non-religious people need to respect each other’s freedom and join with each other in a continuing dialogue.

      • Snake  •  May 25, 2014 at 11:26 pm


        Then GOD according to your definition is a Christianphobe. HE really did a job on Sodom did HE not?

    • annie  •  May 23, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      Wow, Brian. Your statement, “you may oppose giving women the right to make their own choices” is so true! Just the other day I was not allowed to choose a handbag I wanted! And shoes! And someone was making me choose vanilla instead of chocolate! And someone actually was speaking out against me wanting to kill my unborn baby! Those Christians! And they’re such scardey cats aren’t they?? Irrationally afraid of homosexual people, have you seen the way MOST Christians treat Gays? Despicable. Actually I think I could call people like you “Christophobes”, I like that.

  3. Andrew  •  May 20, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Brian strikes again! Yes, atheism is not a religion, but I think you and I both know what he was trying to say. Well, I do. Once again, deny all you want, but you’re really being disingenuous by simply saying opposition to homosexuality automatically makes you a homophobe.

    • Robert Ellis  •  May 22, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Hello Andrew. Homophobia means fear of homosexuality and many conservatives do seem to fear the social consequences of the full acceptance of homosexual people in our society. I myself am a heterosexual person but I fully support homosexual people and their movement to achieve social equality. However, it is extremely important for supporters of gay people and their social rights to address the fears and concerns of our conservative neighbors, to effectively demonstrate to them that gay people and gay marriage pose no threat to heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage.

  4. Brian  •  May 21, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    “Brian strikes again!”
    Well, I stated my case, I really didn’t mean to strike anyone.

    “Yes, atheism is not a religion, but I think you and I both know what he was trying to say”.
    No, I really don’t. I hear this all the time from fundamentalist that insist not believing that there is an invisible man in the sky that we need to worship is somehow or another a belief system. Its not, its simply acceptance of an observable fact.

    “Well, I do. Once again, deny all you want, but you’re really being disingenuous by simply saying opposition to homosexuality automatically makes you a homophobe”.
    Well if you “oppose” someone because of an innate condition what other choice is there?

    • Andrew  •  May 21, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      “Its not, its simply acceptance of an observable fact.” Again, that is your opinion, just the way someone believing in a God is one.

      “Well if you ‘oppose’ someone because of an innate condition what other choice is there?”
      That’s pretty ambiguous. I’m not opposed to someone simply being homosexual. There’s often more to it than that. Whatever floats your boat I guess.

  5. Rose  •  May 23, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    No matter how socially accepted homosexuality, GLBT behaviors become, reality is that the very real negative consequences of practicing homosexual behaviors traditionally known as sodomy, will not go away

  6. Bernard Wolff  •  May 23, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    Michael’s article is right on the money.

    How could the resulting Comments be so far off the basic point of Michael’s comments?

  7. Bob Divine  •  May 23, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Michael’s analysis of American Christianity as a force for freedom, not agaist it, is brilliant as usual. I often wonder where the Judicial voices who would substitute Stare Decisis for Sola Scriptura are going to find a concurrent majority in support of Constitutioonal Government if they reject the underpinnings of natural liberty “endowed by our Creator?” I’m still waiting for traditions outside of Biblical tradions like justification by faith or the priesthood of all believers, culmenating in the Protestant Reformation, to create similar Enlightenment political philosophies such as “Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.” Without the cries of “No King but Christ” we’d never have had the political revolutions that made us free in the first place. And considering slow-minded Kagans screwing things up, perhaps a renewed reformation along the lines of “No Judge but God” is in order.

  8. BourgeoisViews  •  May 23, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I’ve been told very forcefully that there are no denominations in Christianity, and that the denominations you mentioned are not Christian. The person replying to me seemed to think only Evangelicals were Christians, and that type of sentiment may be what influenced the Jewish Justices.

    • annie  •  May 23, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      That’s a very fringe sentiment, I wonder how it could’ve influenced the Justices. Whoever told you that must be outside the norm. Most orthodox Christians do believe, however, that Mormonism is a cult, and outside of Christian orthodoxy

  9. Noah Vale  •  May 23, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Disingenous, Michael. Kagan is correct in saying Christianity is “one faith” since all denominations believe in Jesus Christ. Just as all Jews “of faith” believe in the concept of one G-d without needing to be saved by JC.

    As a conservative, reform Jew from the South, I also have no problem with invocations before high school or college sporting events, townhall meetings, or other government functions. However, unlike you, I feel very strongly that they should be nondenominational in tone and spirit. Having a chaplain who uses the phrase “and we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior” or some equivilent, is wrong in the public setting under governemntal auspices. It does make the religious minorities feel quite uncomfortable.

    Just as you argue how the far left must have things completely their way, unfortunately, the hard Christian right is just as uncompromising.

    • Noah Vale  •  May 23, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      *disingenuous (sorry, no spell check here!)

    • Daphne Krueger  •  May 24, 2014 at 2:11 am

      In answer to Noah Vale, there is a passage in the Bible: No one comes to the Father, except by me, paraphrase the voice of Jesus Christ.

  10. David McCuistion  •  May 23, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Mr. Medved, please forward your article to Justice Kagan. She needs to hear the facts.

    Thank you.

  11. Ron Cade  •  May 24, 2014 at 12:49 am

    Sticking to the article, I point to the first sentence: . . . the Supreme Court decision allowing town boards to open their meetings with sectarian prayer. . . . It’s as if the Supreme Court never read the First Amendment.

    As for Christianity: It promotes doing good to all men. Sadly, all men in Christianity are not good nor have they been throughout the years. When you can drive through a town on one street for less than five miles and see eight or more “Christian” church buildings, all with different names, Christ’s name on only two and five different named Baptist churches, something is amiss. Man! Christianity also wants all men to be saved. See Acts 10 and 11. Cheers!

  12. Alan  •  May 29, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    Simon the sorcerer, read about him in the book of Acts, generated “followers of Jesus” yet Paul and Peter rebuked them as not being Christians because the basis of his teachings included primary falsehoods about Jesus and Torah. That’s why Christianity draws a distinction with in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it has nothing to do with the fact they are excellent neighbors whom we love to have around. Same in Judaism. Many in Judaism will not consider a Jew, who loves Jesus, to still be Jewish, even if that person remains observant and does not participate in Christian holidays or go to church. This despite the fact that Messianics are likewise excellent neighbors we love to be around.

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