This morning the Supreme Court held in Town of Greece v. Galloway, that the town’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with prayers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It was a 5-4 decision, split along traditional right-left lines, though there is not a clear majority opinion.
Justice Kennedy wrote for the Court, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Alito in full and Justices Scalia and Thomas in part. Scalia and Thomas refused to join part Part II-B of Kennedy’s opinion, which concluded that a “fact-intensive” inquiry of the specific practice at issue in this case did not unconstitutionally coerce individuals to engage in religious observance. Justice Alito wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Scalia. Justice Thomas wrote an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, joined by Justice Scalia in part. On the other side, Justice Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion for himself, and Justice Kagan wrote a dissent joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor.
Justice Kennedy’s decision appears to rest squarely on the Court’s decision in Marsh v. Chambers, which upheld the state of Nebraska’s practice of opening legislative sessions with a state-appointed chaplain. Although the practice might appear to constitute an establishment of religion under the Lemon test, the Court in Marsh noted that such legislative prayers date back to the First Continental Congress and concluded that such a well-established tradition could not violate the Establishment Clause. Thus unless the Court were willing to overturn Marsh, the only way to invalidate the prayer at issue here would be to conclude that it was more sectarian or more coercive.
Justice Kagan, writing for the four dissenters, sought to distinguish the prayers at issue here from those upheld in Marsh. Her dissent begins:
For centuries now, people have come to this country from every corner of the world to share in the blessing of religious freedom. Our Constitution promises that they may worship in their own way, without fear of penalty or danger, and that in itself is a momentous offering. Yet our Constitution makes a commitment still more remarkable— that however those individuals worship, they will countas full and equal American citizens. A Christian, a Jew, a Muslim (and so forth)—each stands in the same relationship with her country, with her state and local communities, and with every level and body of government. So that when each person performs the duties or seeks the benefits of citizenship, she does so not as an adherent to one or another religion, but simply as an American.
National Front vice-president Marine Le Pen has offered her reflections on what President Nicholas Sarkozy has termed “positive secularism.” On the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to France, Le Pen noted, “I have battled against positive secularism, but for reasons other than those I have seen in the newspapers in the last few days.” Le Pen adds that Sarkozy has sought to place Islam on equal footing with Islam, but that “Islam is not on par for historic reasons, it has been given a lot of attention because of the massive immigration to France in the last 30 years.” Le Pen believes that this interpretation of secularism works to bolster Islam in France to the detriment of others.
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The author has already written elsewhere about the failure of political Islam because of the non-compatibility of the Islamic imaginary with the structure of the modern state. A political agenda based on Revelation will be bound to coercively suit society to law rather than the other way around.
Olivier Roy, France’s leading philosopher-political scientist, disagrees with the way France is handling its ‘Muslim problem’ and warns it against what it calls Islamophobia, a collective sickness that will harm the country. He invites France to revisit its resistance to affording public space to religion and to differentiate between Islamic neo-fundamentalism, which is observance without demanding a separate state, and which is what the French Muslims want, and Islamism which assumes an Islamic state, and is plaguing the Islamic world. The expatriate Muslim in the West has integrated into the host culture less and less over the years. Two approaches to expatriate workers — assimilationism and multiculturalism — have failed. Assimilation insists that the expatriate person accept the local culture in public places to become a full-fledged citizen. Multiculturalism believes that Islam is a deep-seated culture too and will not fade away as new generations come and go. One approach opposes separation; the other allows separation to achieve integration. Both approaches have failed. Assimilationist France doesn’t allow the wearing of veil to Muslim girls in public places, and has caused protest. Multiculturalist UK, Belgium and Germany are poised to also follow France and restrict the wearing of the Muslim veil because allowing Muslim citizens to remain separate has not led to integration. Roy seeks resolution within the matrix of Western values and observance of human rights and thinks that remedies sought officially now are all wrong. He differentiates between the secularism of the UK where religion is kept out of public life through a culture of values and a way of life, and the laïcité of France where religion has been expelled from public places through a legalism agreed to by the Catholic Church. Yet he notes a lot of defence of Christian values in secular Europe through a damning interpretation of Islam. Writers like Oriana Fallaci not only condemn Islam for being against the culture of the West but claim that the Muslims are incapable of integrating because of their faith. Khaled Ahmed reports.
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French president Nicolas Sarkozy recently defended the notion of “positive secularism” which allows place for religion in the public sphere. While Sarkozy has not introduced any real reform, making the statement in speeches in Rome in December 2007 and in Riyad in January 2008, the suggestion has created fierce debate. In the past Sarkozy has read the 1905 law separating Church and State broadly, notably in allowing the new construction of religious spaces for Muslims and in the controversial creation of the CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith) in 2003.
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The leader of the Paris Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, has proposed a moratorium on the French 1905 law separating Church and State, citing the insufficient number of mosques being built in France. Questioned by French newspaper Le Monde, Mr. Boubakeur set forth a moratorium of 10-20 years on the law, which forbids the public funding of places of worship, so that Muslims in France can catch up on their needs. The proposal incited responses from ardent supporters of the 1905 law of laicite saying that giving Muslims privileges automatically means an end to the law.
For the very first time, the Minister of the Interior, in charge of the religious issues, Mich_le Alliot-Marie, met today with representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish faiths. Before entering debate on each religions’ specific concerns, she wanted to expressed her attachment to the principles of la_cit_ and emphasized the role of religion and religious practices in social life, in particular amongst youth. These questions, and particularly those regarding the funding of the religious organizations, have been kept silent during the campaign for the presidential elections. They could emerge again in the following weeks. Representatives of the four faiths brought up the conclusions of the Machelon report (Sept. 2006) on the relationship between the official authorities and relgion, which call for an update of the 1905 Law on the separation of Church and State.
By Thomas Calinon It is perhaps the end of an old alarm. After two decades of reflection, including four years of impassioned debates, the first stone of the large mosque of Strasbourg was placed Friday, during Ramadan, in muddy ground near the downtown area. “It is time!” said the mayor of Strasbourg, Fabienne Keller, as the ceremony of more than 500 faithful Moslems concluded with “Allah Akbar!”. The event included representatives of the four faiths (Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran and Jew) recognized by the right of Alsace-Moselle, which excuses Alsace from the law on separation of Church and State since 1905.