Academic paper: Secular Invocations and the Promise of Religious Pluralism, by Jay Wexler (2021)

Discussion in 'News and Current Events' started by COS and NOI News, Jul 7, 2021.

  1. Academic paper: Secular Invocations and the Promise of Religious Pluralism, by Jay Wexler (2021). (Relevant to and addresses Scientology.)


    Secular Invocations and the Promise of Religious Pluralism.

    The following excerpt summarizes recent First Amendment and Equal Protection law that is relevant, and indeed is beneficial, to Scientology..

    * * * * * BEGIN EXCERPT * * * * *

    Thus, when the Court held in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris and Mitchell v. Helms that the government has wide discretion to funnel public money to Christian schools,3 Muslim schools and


    3. Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639, 662–63 (2002); Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793, 801 (2000).


    organizations representing all types of religious beliefs, from Scientology to the Hare Krishnas, started asking for (and receiving) public money as well.4 When the Court in Good News Club v. Milford Central School held that public schools must allow proselytizing Christian groups to use their classrooms after the end of the school day,5 secularists and Satanists started running their own clubs in those same classrooms.6 When the Court held in Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board v. Pinette that the government can let private Christian groups put up their displays and monuments on government property opened up as a public forum,7 Wiccans and Atheists started putting up their own monuments in those forums.8 And when the Court said in Town of Greece v. Galloway that town boards can start their meetings off with sectarian prayers, so long as they do not discriminate on the basis of religion,9 individuals with all sorts of religious and nonreligious beliefs, from Hindus to Pagans to Satanists to secularists, started asking to give their own invocations, and many have in fact done so.10

    This phenomenon represents the fact that religious minorities (and nonbelievers, though from here on in I will simply include nonbelievers as a type of religious minority) have largely recognized that the Supreme Court is no longer particularly interested in keeping religion and the government separate.


    4. See WEXLER, supra note 1, at 113, 115, 117, 120–21, 123.
    5. Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 112 (2001).
    6. See WEXLER, supra note 1, at 149–51.
    7. Capitol Square Review & Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753, 769– 70 (1995).
    8. See WEXLER, supra note 1, at 44–49.
    9. Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U.S. 565, 591–92 (2014).
    10. See WEXLER, supra note 1, at 63.

    * * * * * END EXCERPT * * * * *

    Information about the paper:

    * * * * * BEGIN INTRODUCTION * * * * *

    Jay Wexler, Boston Univeristy School of Law

    Author granted license
    Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

    Document Type

    Publication Date
    Spring 2021


    Roger Williams University School of Law


    The Supreme Court has considered the constitutionality of “legislative prayer” twice, once in the 1983 case of Marsh v. Chambers and once in the 2014 case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. Although both of those cases upheld challenged invocation practices on the basis that such practices predated the adoption of the First Amendment, they also placed additional limits on the nature of such prayer programs, including that they be non-discriminatory, as Justice Kennedy explained in Town of Greece. In response to Justice Kennedy’s non-discrimination mandate, hundreds of secular individuals in the wake of Town of Greece asked to give and indeed have given secular invocations before legislatures and town boards across the country. These invocations have tended to stress a series of common themes, including the importance of reason, nature, science, diversity, and equality. By articulating an approach to life that denies the existence of a god or gods or other higher powers, these secular invocations contribute importantly to religious pluralism in public life. Although most of these secular invocations have gone smoothly, many have caused significant controversy. Several jurisdictions have recently adopted policies excluding nonbelievers from giving invocations, and these bans have given rise to three federal appellate court cases. Notably, both the D.C. Circuit and the Third Circuit have held that such secularist exclusion policies are not unconstitutional under the Religion Clauses. This Article, prepared for the Fall 2020 Roger Williams University Law School’s “Is This a Christian Nation?” conference, describes the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence regarding legislative prayer, explains the phenomenon of secular invocations, and argues that these secular invocations are critically important from the perspective of religious pluralism. The Article then describes the cases that have evaluated the constitutionality of secular exclusion polices and argues that these policies violate two fundamental First Amendment principles, namely that the government may not treat religious denominations differently under the Religion Clauses, and that the government may not discriminate on the basis of the viewpoint of speakers under the Free Speech Clause.

    Recommended Citation
    Jay Wexler, Secular Invocations and the Promise of Religious Pluralism, 26 Roger Williams University Law Review 620 (2021).

    Available at:


    * * * * * END INTRODUCTION * * * * *


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