“Let us pray.”
That, apparently, is the way many Protestant prayers begin, including the prayers that generally open town council meetings in Greece, N.Y.
Those prayers would continue with the minister talking to God, carrying on an open conversation that often invokes Jesus, as listeners sit with bowed heads, in a style that is familiar to Protestants – and therefore, of course, to many Americans – but not so much to Jews.
On Monday, the Supreme Court overturned a lower-court ruling that found such prayers in such settings not constitutional. In fact, a five-justice majority ruled, now it is entirely acceptable for government bodies to begin their meetings not only with so-called “legislative prayer,” which, according to the decision, is “inclusive and ecumenical” and directed at a “generic God,” but with specifically Christian ones. There need be no attempt to look around for non-Christian religious leaders. The only kind of unacceptable prayer would be one that denigrated another religion or sought proselytes.
There is no reason why anyone should feel uncomfortable with sectarian prayer, according to Greece’s town supervisor, Bill Reilich. “It’s all about freedom of speech, freedom to pray to the God that you believe in without having concerns about censorship,” he told the radio program “All Things Considered.”
And if the prayer is not to the God you believe in – or if you believe in no God at all – well, then, according to Mr. Reilich, anyone who doesn’t like it simply can enjoy a moment of silence.
Anyone who feels even more uncomfortable would be free to walk out, and return when the prayer is over. That, of course, does not take into consideration how it would feel to do business with a town council after walking out on its prayer.
It is striking that all three Jews on the court voted against the decision. (They were joined by Sonia Sotomayor, who, like all the other justices, is Catholic.) Of course, they are the court’s liberals, but it seems likely that this vote also could have come from a visceral understanding of what it feels like to be an outsider, excluded from something the majority thinks of as universal.
We do not feel comfortable with the kind of prayer that Greece’s town council offers. First, there is the question of keva and kavannah – form and intention. We do not go for public unstructured rambling out-loud one-sided conversations with God. It simply is not our style. It does not make us comfortable. And needless to say, we do not address our prayers to a tripartite God. That is not our theology. Such prayer makes us profoundly uncomfortable.
We deplore this decision.