On Sunday, a number of Supreme Court Justices attended the annual Red Mass at Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, before starting the new term on Monday amid government shutdown. This term, the Supreme Court would also face the question of the constitutionality of starting government meetings with a prayer. For the first time in 30 years, the U.S. Supreme Court would need to decide the issue.
The Justices who attended the mass included Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The congregation at the Cathedral of St. Matthew traditionally prays for the Supreme Court and government officials.
Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell stressed during the homily that debate requires respect for either side in an argument. “If honest and respectful dialogue means anything, it means that we need to strike a balance in our words and rhetoric so that conviction should never become stridency and saying things with commitment should never become caricaturing anyone else’s positions or beliefs,” said Farrell.
He also reminded “E pluribus unum … does not mean ‘I Did It My Way’ has replaced the national anthem.”
The constitutionality of prayers before meetings was challenged in the town of Greece, N.Y., by a Jewish woman and one female atheist. They sued on the grounds that the practice of holding prayers before town council meetings amounted to government endorsement of a single faith.
One of the challengers, Linda Stephens, told NBC News, “I don’t think you should have to endure religious indoctrination in order to participate in your own town government.”
However, the town supervisor holds holding prayers before meetings of the town council is an established ritual dating back to the birth of the nation. He said, “We have a rich tradition, back to our founding fathers, of opening legislative meetings with a prayer.”
The claims of the town were not accepted by an appeals court which ruled the prayers violated the First Amendment, because they were mostly Christian in nature, and thus focusing on a single faith to the exclusion of others.