Monday, May 5, 2014

A great opinion by Justice Kagan - Town of Greece //Balkinization

A great opinion by Justice Kagan - Town of Greece //Balkinization

by Sandy Levinson // U. Texas Law School

Today's opinion in the Town of Greece case is another dismaying example of extraordinarily wooden thinking by what NPR a moment ago described as "the conservative majority" of the Supreme Court.    But, as with the Arizona election finance case a couple of years ago, it elicited a truly great dissent from Justice Elena Kagan, worthy of inclusion in the canon that includes Justice Jackson's magnificent opinion in Barnett.  Also as in that Arizona opinion, Justice Kagan writes a wonderfully accessible prose that should be read by newspaper editorial writers, ordinary citizens, and, ultimately, by youngsters in civics courses trying to wrestle with the meaning of e pluribus unum."

Justice Elena Kagan's dissent begins:
For centuries now, people have come to this country from every corner of the world to share in the blessing of religious freedom. Our Constitution promises that they may worship in their own way, without fear of penalty or danger, and that in itself is a momentous offering. Yet our Constitution makes a commitment still more remarkable— that however those individuals worship, they will countas full and equal American citizens. A Christian, a Jew, a Muslim (and so forth)—each stands in the same relationship with her country, with her state and local communities, and with every level and body of government. So that when each person performs the duties or seeks the benefits of citizenship, she does so not as an adherent to one or another religion, but simply as an American.

I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because Ithink the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality—the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong noless to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian. I do not contend that principle translates here into a bright separationist line.***

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