Religion has long had an extraordinary influence in U.S. politics compared to other democracies. But this isn’t just a far-right phenomenon: If the Obama administration has its way, this influence might go even further. For example, the administration recently filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court arguing that it is constitutional to conduct official Christian prayers at town council meetings.
The Supreme Court case stems from the town of Greece in New York, which opens nearly all its board sessions with prayers by Christian clergy. President Obama joined congressional Republicans and the religious right in supporting this practice. Ken Klukowski, a lawyer for the Family Research Council who crafted a separate amicus brief for the House Republicans,praised the administration for filing “a surprisingly conservative brief.”
Both the Obama administration and religious conservatives note that official prayers have been conducted before sessions of Congress ever since the days of the Founding Fathers. In their view, official prayers at town council sessions should likewise be allowed. On the other hand, official prayers in public schools have been unconstitutional for decades. This contradiction exemplifies how the Supreme Court has adopted a flexible interpretation of the First Amendment. Paradoxically, the Court has issued many decisions enforcing the separation of church and state, yet begins its own proceedings by announcing, “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”