May 09, 2014

Town of Greece dissenters strike blow for ecumenism?

  The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway addressed the constitutionality, under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, of prayers offered before town meetings. The split was 5-4 upholding the practice, with the dissenters arguing that the practice effectively established Christianity as the town’s religion. The dissent indirectly touched upon a curious question: Is “Christianity” a single religion?
  According to the dissents of Justices Breyer and Kagan, all Christians, including Catholics and all stripes of Protestants, are in fact a single religion. See Breyer op. at 4 (“a single denomination”), 4 (“a single religion”), 6 (“a single faith”); Kagan op. at 2 (“only one faith”), 6, 9 n.2 (“a single religion”), 18 (“a single creed”), 19 (“one (and only one) faith”); cf. Kagan op. at 14 (acknowledging clergy came from both “Protestant and Catholic churches”). I don’t know if this reflects theological ignorance or laziness, or if it’s just easier to argue that there’s an “establishment” if you treat a potpourri of distinct religious professions as monolithic rather than diverse. In any event, I’m sure it would be news to the various figures behind the historic doctrinal and ecclesial struggles between Orthodox and Catholic, between Catholic and Protestant, and among various Protestant denominations, that in fact they were all “a single denomination”.

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