Archives For Marco Rubio

The U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway could have far-reaching affects on prayers and invocations made before government and state-sponsored events. At its heart is the question of government endorsement of a particular faith, and whether sectarian prayers overwhelmingly weighted towards one faith can be made so long as a fig-leaf of neutrality is maintained in written policy. I have written about this case before, and how modern Pagans have been deeply intertwined with the development of the “model invocation policy” being challenged and with this case itself.

“In just a few seconds’ time during the April Town Board meeting, Jennifer Zarpentine made Greece history. Zarpentine, a Wiccan, delivered the first-ever pagan prayer to open a meeting of the Greece Town Board. Her hands raised to the sky, she called upon Greek deities Athena and Apollo to ‘help the board make the right informed decisions for the benefit and greater good of the community.’ A small cadre of her friends and coven members in the audience chimed in ‘so mote it be.’”

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio

Now, with the case on the Supreme Court docket, “friend of the court” briefings have been trickling in, most notably from a bi-partisan group of United States Senators (over 30 Republicans and one Democrat), and from a coalition of states lead by the Attorney Generals of Indiana and Texas. The first, spearheaded by Marco Rubio, seems to argue that the Supreme Court upholding (or expanding on) the Court of Appeals verdict in this case could eliminate the Establishment Clause carve-out for a paid government chaplains (as established in Marsh v. Chambers).

“This Court should eliminate the uncertainty and affirm the strong constitutional footing on which legislative prayer stands. In a nation of broad religious diversity, the best means of ensuring that the government does not prefer any particular religious view in the context of legislative prayer is to allow all those who pray to do so in accordance with their own consciences and in the language of their own faiths.”

In essence, Rubio and the other senators are playing the religious freedom card, hand-waving away the fact that Greece’s “neutral” policy “virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint” according to the appeals court judges. However, even more problematic is the brief submitted by 23 states, which not only argues that sectarian prayers before government meetings to be upheld, but raises the bar in terms of challenging prayer policies.

“The amici States urge the Court to re-affirm the central holding of Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 792 (1983), that legislative prayers are permissible as “simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country,” and to disclaim any role for the so-called endorsement test when it comes to analyzing legislative prayer practices. The Court should also consider using this case as an opportunity to clarify Establishment Clause doctrine more generally by requiring a showing of religious coercion as a touchstone for proving any type of unlawful religious establishment.

In other words, government-sponsored prayers should not only have an Establishment Clause carve-out, individuals should have to prove “religious coercion” in order to bring an establishment of religion challenge against a government body. Such a high bar would throw current precedent on Establishment Clause challenges into chaos. It would also mean that rather famous cases involving Pagans, like Darla Kaye Wynne’s successful struggle against the town of Great Falls, South Carolina, would most likely have been thrown out. Because how, exactly, does a religious minority prove coercion in a town dominated by Christians set on praising Christ before every function?

Justice Brennan

Justice Brennan

Marsh v. Chambers, a SCOTUS decision which both the States and Rubio’s coalition places front-and-center in their amicus briefs to argue the Establishment Clause does not apply to government-sponsored prayer, featured a telling dissent by Justice William J. Brennan and Justice Thurgood Marshall that spoke directly to the question of coercion.

“The “primary effect” of legislative prayer is also clearly religious. As we said in the context of officially sponsored prayers in the public schools, “prescribing a particular form of religious worship,” even if the individuals involved have the choice not to participate, places “indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion. . . .” Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 431 (1962). More importantly, invocations in Nebraska’s legislative halls explicitly link religious belief and observance to the power and prestige of the State.

In short, the coercion is already happening, but it is being ignored in the name of tradition. These State Attorney Generals, and Senators, and conservative Christian organizations like the Family Research Council, and the Liberty Institute want desperately for that coercion to continue, and indeed, for it to be trumpeted as “freedom.”

“Courts that impose religious “neutrality” categorically exclude certain religions that require the use of those prohibited terms and violate the mandate of the Establishment Clause that all persons be treated equally by the government, regardless of religious creed.”

In short, making Christians not say “Jesus” before government assemblies and functions hinders their freedom. Somehow.

As I’ve noted before, the outcome of this verdict will likely decide the fate of opening invocations before government meetings. Will the “model invocation policy” used by Greece (and several other towns) be allowed to stand? If so, we can look forward to a huge groundswell of sectarian Christian prayer being instituted across large chunks of the United States. After all, this model policy clearly states that public bodies are “not required to extend any extraordinary efforts to include particular minority faiths” and  “no apology is necessary for the demographics of the community that the public body serves.” This could be a chilling roll-back of advances by religious minorities, and those who hold no religious affiliation at all.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

I’m hoping that the Supreme Court is prudent here, and commits no drastic change to our understandings of the Establishment Clause, though I’m less optimistic since their Voting Rights Act decision. Recent rulings in the 2nd and 4th Courts of Appeals should be respected, and their understanding of how invocations slanted towards the largest demographic can create the appearance of establishment (and coercion) listened to. The current Supreme Court is made up of Roman Catholics and Jews, two religions that once fought very hard against the unthinking privilege of the Protestant Christian majority. Now, there is a chance to make the United States a truly pluralistic nation, not one that claims to be pluralistic, but looks the other way in the name of tradition.

Whatever happens, modern Pagans, and all religious minorities, should pay very close attention to Town of Greece v. Galloway.

As many have predicted, a wave of voter discontent has swept the Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives, though the Democrats have managed to retain control of the Senate. I’ll leave what this “means” to the pundits, spin-masters, and politicos, and instead focus on the candidates and races that have involved our communities in some way, and talk a bit about how this new landscape might affect modern Pagans. To start off, Nevada State Assembly District 29 candidate Erin Lale, an out Heathen who was running on the Libertarian ticket and had the backing of a local Tea Party organization, did not win her race. Incumbent Democrat April Mastroluca retained her seat, and Lale’s involvement may have shaved off enough swing votes from Republican Dan Hill to make it happen.

In a recent interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective Lale expressed frustration at how difficult it is for third-party candidates to receive equal treatment and consideration in the United State’s two-party system.

“…the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

In a message sent to Pagan+Politics last night, Lale had this to say about her campaign.

“Thank you for all your support over the course of this campaign. Although I didn’t win, I did get my ideas in front of a lot of community leaders, organizations, and other candidates, and made a lot of networking connections, so hopefully my ideas can move forward on another front, while I move into another arena of endeavor, whatever that may be. I am now looking for my next challenge.”

This is obviously a disappointment for Lale, but it does show that an openly Pagan candidate with almost no funding or mainstream media attention can affect local politics. As we become more confident, speculations about the “Pagan vote” and Pagan candidates will leave the realm of the hypothetical and be taken more seriously.

Speaking of the “Pagan vote”, one candidate who certainly wasn’t capturing it was Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.  While some polls saw O’Donnell as competitive early on in the campaign, her dire mishandling of the “dabbling in witchcraft” clip from the 1990s not only created a media firestorm but also earned her the ire of Pagans and real-live Witches.

No matter how Democrats treat the issue, it seems unlikely that Wiccans will turn out for O’Donnell at the polls. “Her inability to separate anything non-Christian from Satanic is going to be an issue not just with her potential pagan constituents but with any other non-Christians or Christians of a flavor that does not match hers,” said Michael Smith, the Wiccan IT analyst who hosted the meet-and-greet the governor visited. “A couple of my local politician friends say she’s losing the Wiccan vote,” said [Ivo] Dominguez. “Well, I said she never had the pagan vote for the most part to begin with.” Ben Crair, The Daily Beast

Ultimately “dabble-gate” cost her the election, and while the abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office, O’Donnell’s largely unexplored connections to conservative Christianity and how they influence her politics made few Pagans regret her loss.

Turning from Paganism, and those who may have dabbled in it, to other minority faiths, it looks like 2010 will not see the first Hindu in congress. In Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach seems to have retained his seat against challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi. Nor was it a good night for Indian-American candidates in general this election cycle. The sole exception is the win for Nikki Randhawa Haley, the new Republican governor of South Carolina. A convert from Sikhism to Christianity, Haley is the first female Indian-American to win a governor’s race in the United States. While this election may have been disappointing for those who were looking forward to more religious diversity in America’s halls of power, Indian-Americans are a growing political force here, and it’s only a matter of time before we elect a Hindu to high office.

Finally, did the Republican gains also sweep in a lot of Pagan-hating Christian conservatives? The answer to that one is mixed. As I mentioned, O’Donnell was defeated, as was Sharon Angle in Nevada, despite polls saying she was slightly ahead, meaning her somewhat out-of-the-mainstream brand of conservative Christianity won’t be guiding policy decisions. In Hawaii, Republican James “Duke” Aiona, a candidate with ties to the anti-Pagan spiritual warfare-happy New Apostolic Reformation, lost the governor’s race to Democratic opponent Neil Abercrombie, and, as expected, Washington, D.C., Republican congressional delegate candidate, and Wiccan abortion conspiracy theorist, Missy Reilly Smith, lost to the Democratic incumbent.

But is wasn’t all good news. Republican Florida Senate-winner Marco Rubio may be a bit too cozy with rabidly anti-Pagan “Constitutional Scholar” David Barton (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) making some wonder how much he agrees with Glenn Beck’s “professor”.

“Senate candidate Marco Rubio revved up a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Alaqua Country Club Wednesday, but Rubio had a little help from the guy who introduced him. David Barton primed the pump with his brand of America first, last and always political/religious revivalism … Barton’s primary message Wednesday – and most days – is that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, was intended to be a Christian nation and would be a whole lot better if everyone started buying into that. Barton traces a number of social ills, for example, back to the prohibition of compulsory prayer in public schools.”

Too bad no one got to question him on the point of equal treatment for non-Christians, specifically Pagans. On the whole, some are starting to see this election not as the rise of the Tea Party, as some had hoped/feared, but as a second wind for Christian conservative candidates (some of whom have latched onto or gained the support from Tea Party groups). What that all means for minority religions (or for the fiscally-motivated Tea Party for that matter) in the next few years remains to be seen.

Have any election-night insights to share? Leave them in the comments!