It occurs to me that I went too easy on Linda Greenhouse in my column the other day. The New York Times writer, you may recall, had criticized the “dangerous” conservatism of several justices and how “polarized” the Court is as a result of it. (Her article was headlined “Polar Vision.”) The case on which she spent the most words was Town of Greece v. Galloway, about prayers spoken at the beginning of town-board meetings.
Greenhouse characterized the majority opinion as “authorizing sectarian invocations at local government meetings.” She suggested that the two women who brought the case were right to hold “that the price of conducting their business with the town board should not include having to listen to Christian prayers,” and indeed that the Court had undermined their dignity by denying their claim. And she complained that as other towns adjust to the ruling, “the Supreme Court’s ‘O.K. to pray’ is being quickly and unsubtly turned into a right to pray.”
The point I neglected to make: Greenhouse’s position puts her at odds not just with the Court’s majority but with all nine justices. The four liberal dissenters all said it would be constitutional for a town board to open with sectarian invocations, so long as it made an effort to ensure that they were not always Christian invocations. The dissenters were fine, then, with people having to listen to Christian prayers before a meeting. They too were willing to hand out an “O.K. to pray.”
On this issue, the Court was unanimous rather than polarized. None of the justices was willing to go as far left as Greenhouse.