Monday, September 19, 2016

There Rutledge goes again, this time against church-state separation

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 4:28 PM

What a day for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. Now she's crowing about striking a blow against separation of church and state for joining a coalition of Republicans to defend a North Carolina county commission's opening prayer ritual that has devolved into a purely Christian exercise.

Rutledge release:

“It is a time-honored practice, dating back to the founding of this nation for deliberative bodies, led by a lawmaker, to open a meeting with a prayer,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “I know that this practice is no different in Arkansas, and this victory helps protect lawmaker-led prayer to open meetings in cities and counties across our State and across the country.”

It's not so simple.

In this case, the Christian commissioners choose who prays and they make no pretense of maintaining a policy of non-discrimination, as past court rulings have urged.

The Supreme Court has allowed prayer already, but suggested that the honor be passed around and steps taken to insure it is not merely a reflection of majority religion. This 4th Circuit ruling comes on a 2-1 decision, with the majority formed by ultra-right-wing judges.

Think Progress analyzes and explains why this ruling defies past Supreme Court law.

The Fourth Circuit’s decision in Lund, if it is allowed to stand, will also do far more than take away an important tool that can be used to maintain separation between church and state. It could also work profound harm to democracy. As Judge Wilkinson notes in dissent, a system that gives elected lawmakers sole power to set a prayer agenda “takes us one step closer to a de facto religious litmus test for public office.” In such a system “voters may wonder what kind of prayer a candidate of a minority religious persuasion would select if elected.” Meanwhile, a lawmaker’s “failure to pray in the name of the prevailing faith risks becoming a campaign issue or a tacit political debit, which in turn deters those of minority faiths from seeking office.”

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