Supreme Court rules prayers ok at town council meetings

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GloriaInTX's picture
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Supreme Court rules prayers ok at town council meetings

Do you agree with the ruling? Why/Why not?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a town in New York state did not violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on government endorsement of religion by allowing prayers before its monthly meetings.

In a decision that is likely to guide how local governments throughout the United States handle the question, the court said on a 5-4 vote that officials in the town of Greece did not violate the law when picking prayer-givers, who were overwhelmingly Christian.

Even the plaintiffs challenging the practice in Greece, a Rochester, New York, suburb of 100,000 people, conceded that some types of nonsectarian prayers are permitted under the Constitution. The difficulty facing the justices was how to decide how courts should consider when a prayer could violate the First Amendment calling for separation of church and state.

The court was divided along ideological lines, with the conservative wing of the court saying the prayers were acceptable, while the liberal justices said the practice violated the First Amendment.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's swing vote, wrote the majority opinion, saying that the town's prayers are consistent with the high court's 1983 precedent in a case called Marsh v. Chambers. That case allowed prayers before legislative sessions based in large part on the historical nature of the practice.

Although the policy in the town of Greece does not embrace a particular religion, in practice all members of the public who gave a prayer were Christians until some residents filed suit in 2008.

Kennedy wrote that public prayers need not be nonsectarian.

"To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech," Kennedy wrote.

Residents Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, filed the suit, saying the practice made them uncomfortable.

The case reached the high court after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled against the town in May 2012. A district court had previously supported the town's position by dismissing the lawsuit filed by Galloway and Stephens.

The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-696.

Supreme Court endorses prayers before town meetings - chicagotribune.com

Joined: 04/12/03
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I think it's okay in theory, but in practice it is a thinly veiled technicality.

Sure, we'll allow prayer from other faiths. What's that? Only Christians put in their requests to lead a prayer. Our mayor spoke publicly that the meetings would start with a Christian prayer. So much for the majority protecting the rights of the minority.

AlyssaEimers's picture
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The thing about prayer is that you can not force someone else to participate. If you do not want to participate in a 2 minute prayer, then just quietly wait for it to be finished. That said, if the prayers went overly long or if there was someone at the meeting that had a true objection that would be different. If however, everyone at the meeting wanted the prayer, it should not be banned just because it was a town hall meeting.

Spacers's picture
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A bad decision, just as the Marsh decision was a bad one. The fact that something has been done for decades, or even centuries, doesn't make it right. Prayer has no place in government. If the people want to pray, then they can do it privately. Anything else doesn't protect everyone's rights.

AlyssaEimers's picture
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"Spacers" wrote:

If the people want to pray, then they can do it privately. Anything else doesn't protect everyone's rights.

Who are you (generic you) to tell someone when and where they can pray? It is just as offensive and limiting to tell someone they can't pray as it is to have prayer.

Spacers's picture
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And who are you to tell anyone else that they have to sit through someone else's prayer in order to participate in their own government? The purpose of the meeting is to run the government, not to pray, so if someone feels the need to pray, they should be the one to do it privately. It would be the same if someone felt the need to call their husband to ask about something, you don't interrupt the meeting for it, you do it as quietly & discreetly as possible.

AlyssaEimers's picture
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"Spacers" wrote:

you do it as quietly & discreetly as possible.

I am at a loss for words. There is no such thing as Freedom From Religion. There is nothing anywhere promising you the right to never encounter religion anywhere you go. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.." As quietly and discreetly as possible is not the free exercise thereof.

There comes a point when trying to protect the rights of one group royally tramples on the rights of another group and this is a prime example. The idea that prayer needs to be as quiet and discreet as possible is A. Offensive and B. Not at all legal.

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
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I think the ruling is in line with the establishment clause. The government is charged with not endorsing 1 religion, not protecting people from ever hearing anything about it. I also think hearing other prayers can be very enlightening. My DD had a field trip to a county commission meeting last year, it was a jewish prayer that opened the meeting that day. My dd goes to a christian school and all of the kids thought that prayer was "cool"

Joined: 04/12/03
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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

The thing about prayer is that you can not force someone else to participate. If you do not want to participate in a 2 minute prayer, then just quietly wait for it to be finished. That said, if the prayers went overly long or if there was someone at the meeting that had a true objection that would be different. If however, everyone at the meeting wanted the prayer, it should not be banned just because it was a town hall meeting.

If you are saying it out loud, you can't really claim that you aren't forcing others to participate. It's kind of like pulling up to a stop light and having to listen to someone's loud music.

But...since I can't be forced to participate in your public prayers, it's all good if I talk on my cell phone or talk to my friend about why I don't pray in public while the prayer is said.

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"ethanwinfield" wrote:

But...since I can't be forced to participate in your public prayers, it's all good if I talk on my cell phone or talk to my friend about why I don't pray in public while the prayer is said.

Its rude, but it is not illegal or unconstitutional.

Joined: 04/12/03
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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

Its rude, but it is not illegal or unconstitutional.

If I can't be forced to participate, what would make it rude?

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"ethanwinfield" wrote:

If I can't be forced to participate, what would make it rude?

When I went to school there was a boy that was a JW. He did not believe in saying the Pledge to the Flag. He had to stand there quietly, but he did not have to participate. In the same way. You can stand or sit quietly while someone is praying and still not participate. It would be just as rude or not rude as speaking while someone else is presenting or speaking.

Joined: 08/17/04
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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

When I went to school there was a boy that was a JW. He did not believe in saying the Pledge to the Flag. He had to stand there quietly, but he did not have to participate. In the same way. You can stand or sit quietly while someone is praying and still not participate. It would be just as rude or not rude as speaking while someone else is presenting or speaking.

That is more to do with general flag etiquette than being rude. He doesn't have to pledge allegiance but as a citizen he's expected to respect the flag when displayed.

While I would never talk during anyone's known prayer sessions, I don't think that expectation should be put on people. It's an optional part of the meeting they are saying so it should be optional for me to be quiet during it.

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"Jessica80" wrote:

That is more to do with general flag etiquette than being rude. He doesn't have to pledge allegiance but as a citizen he's expected to respect the flag when displayed.

While I would never talk during anyone's known prayer sessions, I don't think that expectation should be put on people. It's an optional part of the meeting they are saying so it should be optional for me to be quiet during it.

As far as legally or constitutionally - no one would ever have to be quiet. As far as being rude is concerned - It would be the same as if any speaker was speaking. If a little old lady got up to speak about some quilt she was making to sell and make money for some orphans, even if you were board, not interested, or not participating in that particular fundraiser, it would be rude to speak loudly while someone else was speaking. I doubt that you would find many people at all that would not think it was rude to speak loudly while someone nearby was trying to pray. That does not mean you have to participate in the prayer.

As for speaking while someone is praying, as a mother of young children I speak during prayer often. "Stop picking your nose", "Hold still", "pay attention" and so on. However, It is spoken quietly.

So to summarise, there is a huge difference between what is legally required and what is socially acceptable. We are talking about it being against the law to open a meeting with prayer. That is hugely different than something just being considered rude. If you were to talk loudly while someone was praying (or presenting on quilts, or putting in a plug for the companies that are sponsoring the event) it would be considered rude and people would probably stare at you but you have the freedom to speak if you so choose.

Joined: 04/12/03
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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

As far as legally or constitutionally - no one would ever have to be quiet. As far as being rude is concerned - It would be the same as if any speaker was speaking. If a little old lady got up to speak about some quilt she was making to sell and make money for some orphans, even if you were board, not interested, or not participating in that particular fundraiser, it would be rude to speak loudly while someone else was speaking.

Not the same thing at all. If I went to a lecture on quilting and the speaker started to have a side conversation with someone on stage about hockey, it would not be rude for me to also have a conversation with the person near me. I'm not going to a quilt show to talk about hockey nor am I going to a city council meeting to hear a prayer.

I doubt that you would find many people at all that would not think it was rude to speak loudly while someone nearby was trying to pray. That does not mean you have to participate in the prayer.

In general, I find it rude for people to expect me to be quiet because they are trying to pray. If I was talking on my cell phone out in public wouldn't *I* be the rude one if I expected you to be quiet while I carry on my conversation? Yet insert religion and suddenly it's the other way around?

As for speaking while someone is praying, as a mother of young children I speak during prayer often. "Stop picking your nose", "Hold still", "pay attention" and so on. However, It is spoken quietly.

yet you don't find speaking (even quietly) while someone next to you is trying to pray rude?

So to summarise, there is a huge difference between what is legally required and what is socially acceptable. We are talking about it being against the law to open a meeting with prayer. That is hugely different than something just being considered rude. If you were to talk loudly while someone was praying (or presenting on quilts, or putting in a plug for the companies that are sponsoring the event) it would be considered rude and people would probably stare at you but you have the freedom to speak if you so choose.

Sitting quietly while other people pray should not be a prerequisite for participating in my local government.

Joined: 03/08/03
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I think it's a bad decision.

It's not that I believe in freedom from religion in all places, but I think that it's not the appropriate setting for prayer. This is a town meeting, it's government, and it has absolutely nothing to do with religion. I can easily envision a situation in which people note who is NOT praying or participating and then treat that person's opinion as less valuable or less moral. If you want to pray before any meeting you go to, that's fine, you can do it yourself. Why do you need a group and why does it have to be part of official proceedings?

If you want a group, you go to church or synagogue or wherever you want to go. I don't start off work meetings by sitting in "easy pose" and chanting "ohm" and sending peace out into the world; it's not the appropriate place for that.

I believe in the separation of church and state.

GloriaInTX's picture
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The founding fathers who wrote the constitution allowed prayers in the legislature. If the men who wrote the constitution thought it was constitutional, than I agree with the Supreme Court that it is constitutional

KimPossible's picture
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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

The founding fathers who wrote the constitution allowed prayers in the legislature. If the men who wrote the constitution thought it was constitutional, than I agree with the Supreme Court that it is constitutional

Yeah well the founding fathers also felt it was constitutional that women not vote so....

not sure how sound your logic is.

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"KimPossible" wrote:

Yeah well the founding fathers also felt it was constitutional that women not vote so....

not sure how sound your logic is.

The Supreme Court's job is to decide if something is Constitutional. Not to decide if something SHOULD be Constitutional. If you wanted to make it so that it was unconstitutional to pray at a City counsel meeting you would have to go through all of the legal hoops to change the Constitution. You can't twist the Constitution to say that you can not pray at city counsel meetings when the writers of the Constitution did just that.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

The Supreme Court's job is to decide if something is Constitutional. Not to decide if something SHOULD be Constitutional. If you wanted to make it so that it was unconstitutional to pray at a City counsel meeting you would have to go through all of the legal hoops to change the Constitution. You can't twist the Constitution to say that you can not pray at city counsel meetings when the writers of the Constitution did just that.

Is this supposed to be directed at me? I said nothing about the Supreme Court. I was responding to the logic used in Gloria's argument.

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"KimPossible" wrote:

Is this supposed to be directed at me? I said nothing about the Supreme Court. I was responding to the logic used in Gloria's argument.

They seemed pretty clear on a well-regulated militia, states' rights, due process, collecting taxes, etc. yet they have made decisions that aren't aligned with what is written nor what the people want.

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"KimPossible" wrote:

Is this supposed to be directed at me? I said nothing about the Supreme Court. I was responding to the logic used in Gloria's argument.

The OP was about the Supreme Court ruling that prayer at City Counsel meetings, and Gloria was talking about the Constitution, so that is what I though we were talking about.

GloriaInTX's picture
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"KimPossible" wrote:

Yeah well the founding fathers also felt it was constitutional that women not vote so....

not sure how sound your logic is.

It seems pretty sound to me. If it had been constitutional for women to vote we wouldn't have needed an amendment. Clearly the right of women to vote wasn't addressed in the constitution so an amendment was passed to address it. Maybe there should be an amendment about religious rights.... oops there already is. The existing amendment clearly expresses what the founding fathers meant because these same men who passed it held prayers in the legislature. So the choice is either abide by what it says as the Supreme Court has affirmed, or amend it to say something else.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

The OP was about the Supreme Court ruling that prayer at City Counsel meetings, and Gloria was talking about the Constitution, so that is what I though we were talking about.

Her point was that since our founding fathers believed something was constitutional then it MUST be constitutional...and that was what my rebuttal was about...so i don't see how your response to my rebuttal makes sense.

And if thats not her point, she should clarify, which maybe she did because i see she has posted after you and i haven't read it yet...

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

It seems pretty sound to me. If it had been constitutional for women to vote we wouldn't have needed an amendment.

Remember that at one point there wasn't an amendment. Your point seemed to be that our founding fathers were somehow infallible, my point is that there is nothing infallible about them. And really there isn't anythign infallible about our Supreme Court either, we have to go along with what they rule, but I'd like to see one individual in this country who thinks the Supreme Court has gotten every ruling right.

Clearly the right of women to vote wasn't addressed in the constitution so an amendment was passed to address it. Maybe there should be an amendment about religious rights.... oops there already is. The existing amendment clearly expresses what the founding fathers meant because these same men who passed it held prayers in the legislature. So the choice is either abide by what it says as the Supreme Court has affirmed, or amend it to say something else.

I guess I don't really understand your point. I can't predict the future, I don't know what will or won't happen with the constitution, all I know is "Well this is what the founding fathers thought" doesn't really stand up well on its own.

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"KimPossible" wrote:

Remember that at one point there wasn't an amendment. Your point seemed to be that our founding fathers were somehow infallible, my point is that there is nothing infallible about them. And really there isn't anythign infallible about our Supreme Court either, we have to go along with what they rule, but I'd like to see one individual in this country who thinks the Supreme Court has gotten every ruling right. I guess I don't really understand your point. I can't predict the future, I don't know what will or won't happen with the constitution, all I know is "Well this is what the founding fathers thought" doesn't really stand up well on its own.

I agree completely. It's not really a rock solid argument. Are we debating whether it's legal, or whether it's right?

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"KimPossible" wrote:

Her point was that since our founding fathers believed something was constitutional then it MUST be constitutional...and that was what my rebuttal was about...so i don't see how your response to my rebuttal makes sense.

And if thats not her point, she should clarify, which maybe she did because i see she has posted after you and i haven't read it yet...

I understood her to say (I could be wrong), You can't say that the Constitution says you can not pray at a City Counsel meeting when the people writing the Constitution regularly prayed at Government meetings. It was obviously not their intent to ban any form of religious expression in any public place.

"freddieflounder101" wrote:

Are we debating whether it's legal, or whether it's right?

I was debating weather it is legal or Constitutional. Not weather it is right. If the Supreme Court had ruled the other way, it would have come down as Constitutionally illegal to publicly pray at City Counsel meetings. That has HUGE ramifications and as Gloria pointed out, not at all Constitutional. It is not the Supreme Courts job (the ones who made this decision) to say what they think the law should be or what they think the Constitution should mean. It is their job to uphold the Constitution. If you disagree with the Constitution, then work to change it. Not bend it to mean something that it obviously does not.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

I understood her to say (I could be wrong), You can't say that the Constitution says you can not pray at a City Counsel meeting when the people writing the Constitution regularly prayed at Government meetings. It was obviously not their intent to ban any form of religious expression in any public place.

I was debating weather it is legal or Constitutional. Not weather it is right. If the Supreme Court had ruled the other way, it would have come down as Constitutionally illegal to publicly pray at City Counsel meetings. That has HUGE ramifications and as Gloria pointed out, not at all Constitutional. It is not the Supreme Courts job (the ones who made this decision) to say what they think the law should be or what they think the Constitution should mean. It is their job to uphold the Constitution. If you disagree with the Constitution, then work to change it. Not bend it to mean something that it obviously does not.

You keep saying obvious...if it were so obvious it would not have gone to the Supreme Court. I don't think its so obvious. Oh AND we are not debating a ban on religious expression in any public place. where did that come from??? We are talking about a town council meeting, a government related gathering.

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"KimPossible" wrote:

You keep saying obvious...if it were so obvious it would not have gone to the Supreme Court. I don't think its so obvious. Oh AND we are not debating a ban on religious expression in any public place. where did that come from??? We are talking about a town council meeting, a government related gathering.

Would you write a law to ban smoking while you were currently smoking? The writing of the Constitution was done in a government related gathering. We know historically that there was prayer at such government related gatherings when the Constitution was written. Claiming that the writers intention was to ban prayer at government related gatherings is an obvious twisting of the truth.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

Would you write a law to ban smoking while you were currently smoking? The writing of the Constitution was done in a government related gathering. We know historically that there was prayer at such government related gatherings when the Constitution was written. Claiming that the writers intention was to ban prayer at government related gatherings is an obvious twisting of the truth.

No its not. Maybe its obvious to you but no one would have been arguing it and it wouldn't have made it to the supreme court if it was actually obvious. Saying over and over again that its obvious doesn't make it so...the evidence says otherwise.

KimPossible's picture
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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

Would you write a law to ban smoking while you were currently smoking? The writing of the Constitution was done in a government related gathering. We know historically that there was prayer at such government related gatherings when the Constitution was written. Claiming that the writers intention was to ban prayer at government related gatherings is an obvious twisting of the truth.

Furthermore I have already pointed out that our founding fathers supported the practice of all sorts of things that were later to be determined as unconstitutional, so I don't really know why it matters if they wanted to pray and didn't want it to be banned under the constitution the way they saw it.

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"KimPossible" wrote:

Furthermore I have already pointed out that our founding fathers supported the practice of all sorts of things that were later to be determined as unconstitutional, so I don't really know why it matters if they wanted to pray and didn't want it to be banned under the constitution the way they saw it.

By changing the constitution. Not by just deciding to not follow it.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

By changing the constitution. Not by just deciding to not follow it.

This goes back to what we were saying before...it is not 'obvious' that this is fine under the constitution the way its worded. Its not explicit....they are general principles.

KimPossible's picture
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Let me see if I can give another example to clarify why "Our founding fathers liked to pray, let it happen and thought it was constitutional..so it must be" is an extremely weak argument...if it were to qualify as an argument at all.

By a raise of hands, who here feels that when the 14th Amendment was put into place, all unconstitutional practices regarding equality ceased to exist? Those who created the law knew, in pure clarity, what was unconstitutional and what was not and everything they allowed at the time was most definitely constitutional. Anyone...anyone? No? **crickets**

By a raise of hands, who here feels that it took a real long time after the amendment came about for us to actually abolish a lot of unconstitutional practices that violated the 14th amendment and the people who created said amendment were long dead.

I'll raise my hand to the second question, I'm pretty certain I'm not alone.

ETA: Oh and also let me point out that we didn't change the constitution years later for say..... Brown vs. Board of Education, we used it just as it was, with the same 14th amendment from 1868.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

Would you write a law to ban smoking while you were currently smoking? The writing of the Constitution was done in a government related gathering. We know historically that there was prayer at such government related gatherings when the Constitution was written. Claiming that the writers intention was to ban prayer at government related gatherings is an obvious twisting of the truth.

Canadian here, chiming in where I dont belong Smile But just wanted to point out that 'intention' is impossible to know. I can easily change interpretation by saying the 'intention' was to be inclusive. During the time the constitution was written the US was much more homologous, so prayer was not considered to be exclusionary. However, as time has gone on, the make up of the country has changed and now including a specific prayer may exclude some groups from attending government functions.

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"ftmom" wrote:

Canadian here, chiming in where I dont belong Smile But just wanted to point out that 'intention' is impossible to know. I can easily change interpretation by saying the 'intention' was to be inclusive. During the time the constitution was written the US was much more homologous, so prayer was not considered to be exclusionary. However, as time has gone on, the make up of the country has changed and now including a specific prayer may exclude some groups from attending government functions.

You (general you) either base all of our laws on the Constitution as it was written when it was written, or you don't. There can not, in my opinion be any flexibility in this issue unless the legal process is followed to change it. Take for instance freedom of press or freedom of speech. If there became a time that an administration wanted to change those rules our Government is designed with a system of checks and balances that they can not be changed unless all of the proper channels. You can not just say "well this part is no longer relevant or applicable so we are just not going to follow it." The only way to change the constitution is to go through the process of making an amendment. The Supreme courts job is only to follow the Constitution to the letter. Not to change it in any way or form.

There are legal ways to change the Constitution if it is felt that there is a part that is no longer relevant or fitting, but it can not be done by the Supreme court. The long process is put in place so that it can not be changed against the wishes of the People.

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As a non-religious person who has lived in highly religious areas, I felt more offended by people's attitudes in every day life and treating me like a non-person than saying prayers in school or at public events.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

You (general you) either base all of our laws on the Constitution as it was written when it was written, or you don't. There can not, in my opinion be any flexibility in this issue unless the legal process is followed to change it. Take for instance freedom of press or freedom of speech. If there became a time that an administration wanted to change those rules our Government is designed with a system of checks and balances that they can not be changed unless all of the proper channels. You can not just say "well this part is no longer relevant or applicable so we are just not going to follow it." The only way to change the constitution is to go through the process of making an amendment. The Supreme courts job is only to follow the Constitution to the letter. Not to change it in any way or form.

There are legal ways to change the Constitution if it is felt that there is a part that is no longer relevant or fitting, but it can not be done by the Supreme court. The long process is put in place so that it can not be changed against the wishes of the People.

Ya'know, the 7th amendment allows for a jury trial for civil cases over $20. Really, no longer relevant and not really followed. No need to change it with an amendment.

When things change so much you can't go by the "intent" as it was written or even the meaning of the words. There's a privacy case regarding cell phones & the 4th amendment (last year I think it was DNA & the 4th amendment.) You have really no way of knowing what the writers of the constitution would think about advanced weaponry or voter ID. In theory, they wouldn't really have a need for voter govt-issued ID. None of the amendments addressing voting mention the need for ID. "Cruel and unusual" isn't clearly defined.

We have SCOTUS to interpret the constitution as it applies in specific cases as a check on the legislative branch.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

You (general you) either base all of our laws on the Constitution as it was written when it was written, or you don't. There can not, in my opinion be any flexibility in this issue unless the legal process is followed to change it. Take for instance freedom of press or freedom of speech. If there became a time that an administration wanted to change those rules our Government is designed with a system of checks and balances that they can not be changed unless all of the proper channels. You can not just say "well this part is no longer relevant or applicable so we are just not going to follow it." The only way to change the constitution is to go through the process of making an amendment. The Supreme courts job is only to follow the Constitution to the letter. Not to change it in any way or form.

Bonita, i just gave you an example(A much bigger and more drastic example at that) of something that was once deemed constitutional, then was deemed later to be unconstitutional without adding any new amendments. (My brown vs. board from above, in case it wasn't clear)

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Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

(emphasis mine)
-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom