All religions are equal …

… but some religions are more equal than others.

… but some religions are more equal than others.

Question for Judge Harvie Wilkinson:

If a legislative body can Constitutionally insult all non-monotheists within its jurisdiction by restricting the list of clergy eligible to give invocations at its meetings to monotheists, why couldn’t it also insult Unitarians, Jews, and Muslims by restricting that list to trinitarian Christians?

In Judge Wilkinson’s careful parsing of the Supreme Court’s decision in Marsh, he carefully ignores what seems to me to be the obvious central point of the current case: the county rejected the idea of adding a Wiccan practitioner to the rota of invocation-givers because, as one Board member said of Wicca, “It is not any religion I would subscribe to.”

In so doing, the Board proclaimed Wicca to be a lesser religion than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. It is that action, and not the content of the invocations, that constitutes what ought to be an impermissible “establishment of religion.”

Wilkinson may well be right that the precedent in Marsh is binding. If so, it’s time for the Supreme Court to revisit Marsh. But I don’t find the two cases hard to distinguish.

While it’s true that to choose a single clergymember to give invocations involves choosing a single denomination, it avoids making an explicit list of officially approved religions, and thus officially proclaiming that Hindus and Buddhists, for example, are not full members of the community.

Hat tip: Paperwight, via Pandagon and Eschaton.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com