Civilizational Attitudes

  I recommend readers research postcolonial studies – and especially the book Orientalism – after reading this. I also apologize for the abhorrently academic tone of this article; I’ve lately been reading too much of the Arab ezine Jadaliyya.

The more I think about it the more I realize that the hardest thing I find to talk about with others in genuine, constructive conversation is Islam and South Asian culture. In a broader context, theistic religions in general, Islamic civilization, and my cultural background are intensely difficult to discuss and talk about with someone from the outside. I suspect most people that have some sort of biculturalness with two different worlds have similar sentiment. I try to put my tongue on the reason frequently, but I always fail. This article will hopefully be a more successful attempt.

I like to think that I’m quite articulate with my thoughts when it comes to writing. I can organize and strategically argue most ideas that I agree with, and although others may still disagree I can take solace in the belief that I’m right. But perhaps the ability to articulate comes with a presumption that the other side will see some truth in the argument if they’re thinking clearly, and that I wouldn’t have to explain and justify prefaces.

After all, I can’t remember the last time I engaged in a lengthy conversation with someone from an entirely different civilizational attitude. There is such a thing, but most people would deny it. I would like to give a lengthy rebut to those people, but such an argument is one of the terribly difficult things to argue. To engage in such a discussion about why there are civilizational attitudes with someone who only has one would require a conversation with virtually no preconceptions, little shared ground, and few relatable experiences. The idea of civilizational attitudes is a viewpoint that takes a book just to explain, much less argue to someone who doesn’t share the idea.

Having successfully failed to justify the idea of civilizational attitudes, allow me now to explain what that has to do with my own predicament. Being an American Muslim, I am Western – which comes with its cultures, values, and modes of thinking – but I also have a very authentic relationship and identity with Islam as a whole –its cultures, values, and modes of thinking. Most people and friends of mine that experience this two world phenomenon are often stuck in situations where their civilizations collide and they are left at ultimatums. I personally don’t get this often as both a South Asian Muslim and an American, but I think the element of this article is just as intense if not deeper.

When talking about Islam with non-Muslims and even some Muslims, I’m at a loss with words. How am I to justify an idea or a concept efficiently when it was evolved from 1400 years of thought that the other has no familiarity with? Too, how am I to explain something when the other has biases that didn’t emerge just in their lifetime, but have been going on perpetually for centuries if not millennia? The word “jihad” or “Sharia” or “Allah Akbar” strikes terror in the eyes and ears and minds of many Westerners in ways I could never understand, and to even come to some sort of explanation that not just clears away misconceptions and preconceptions but actually expresses the idea in an internal light demands putting away one’s entire body of cultures, values, and modes of thinking just to understand.

It is not easy, and arguably impossible. When I try to articulate, I get caught up in the idea that the other will not understand I cease to even try to make an explanation comprehensible. And then when I try to make an explanation comprehensible, I fail miserably since, well, the explanation requires a book if not more. It requires ripping apart not just all the misconceptions and preconceptions, but one’s entire Western body of cultures, values, and modes of thinking.

Likewise, people get weirded out when I talk about “the West” and ideas that are unique to it – basically half of what postcolonial studies is about. Most Westerners are foreign to even thinking about the West from the outside. People find it hard enough to understand the idea of intrusion, hegemony, imperialism, and the like. When I discuss those words, I’m not talking about the distancing idea of the American empire, but about our everyday expression of ideas. It really is true, for me and for many of those who have this bicivilizational experience, that a friend’s idea can be hegemonic in its outcome and intent. To say, for example, – good heartedly and well intentioned – that “I want to liberate women” or “I demand religious freedom” in countries and cultures distant from one’s own can very well be a telling sign of imperialistic attitudes that are only understood when looked at from the outside.

Words fail me even then to say what is so hegemonic about exterior liberation or foreign pressure to internally change. That such expressions are oppressive in their nature is about as difficult to explain as the topic at hand, religion.

When I try in any fashion of any sort to explain my own religious beliefs or practices and why I choose them, it becomes nearly impossible for the other to see them in any empathetic light unless the other is also deeply and devoutly theistic. Then, the body of cultures, values, and modes of thinking are already shared and no immense justification is necessary. But for all the other times, the ways of thinking are so alien to the other it becomes almost pointless to try and explain.

Try I must, however, and occasionally try I do. While it usually ends in what I would describe as a disaster, some sort of mutual understanding of the “otherness” arises, which isn’t all that bad since it is an understanding at some degree. Still yet, however, there is often an unacknowledgement of the idea that humans are at very fundamental levels different. That acknowledgement unfortunately requires having differences at fundamental levels, which is something only a few of us share. Which leads back to the very beginning of the problem – expressing the idea of fundamental civilizational differences requires having them. Like many things, the problem is tragically circular.


Getting the Law Wrong: The Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

On June 30th the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The ruling will no doubt go into the textbooks as a new, reformed understanding in the relationship between corporations and religious freedom. With all due respect, I find their decision bewildering for its logical incoherency. It is my intention in this article to deliver a convincing and honest critique safely within the relevant legal framework. This is an argument based on the facts of American law, not on personal opinion or ambiguous, overarching moral principles.

To keep my analysis pure, I have not read any media about the decision besides the Supreme Court’s official and binding 95 page released opinion. Mainstream media has a habit of misconstruing Supreme Court decisions, and I for one do not wish to be tainted. Perhaps in the future I will analyze the media’s interpretations of the decision. But for now, all the information necessary about the case can be found in the Supreme Court’s document, if only one spends the time to read it. I hope to be lucid and transparent. I hope to reflect the Court’s decision precisely as it was and then to give an honest criticism using the dissent’s guidance whenever possible. I hope that this article does just that.

Before continuing, we need to know the gist of the case. Below is the exact wording of the Court’s syllabus that explains the issue, which “constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court” (1). This is from the actual document, and not from a journalist middle man. I have edits of my own added for clarity and brevity that are all in red. To find the whole syllabus, I invite you to read the document itself. It reads:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless the Government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—(1) is in furtherance of a compelling govern-mental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling Governmental interest.”(my emphasis)… RFRA covers “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” At issue here are regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA, “Obamacare”), which … requires specified employers’ group health plans to furnish “preventive care and screenings” for women without “any cost sharing requirements,” Nonexempt employers are generally required to provide coverage for the 20 contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including the 4 that may have the effect of preventing an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from this contraceptive mandate. HHS has also effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services. Under this accommodation, the insurance issuer must exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost-sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or its employee beneficiaries.

In these cases, the owners of three closely held for-profit corporations (Conestoga Wood Specialties, Mardel, and Hobby Lobby Stores) have sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices … they sued HHS and other federal officials and agencies … under RFRA and the Free Exercise Clause [of the First Amendment] (“Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]”), seeking to enjoin application of the contraceptive mandate [except where it] requires them to provide health coverage for the four objectionable contraceptives … [The Tenth Circuit] held that the Greens’ businesses are “persons” under RFRA, and that … the contraceptive mandate substantially burdened their exercise of religion and HHS had not demonstrated a compelling interest in enforcing the mandate against them; in the alternative, the court held that HHS had not proved that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling Governmental interest.

That context should be sufficient for the reader, but if you need more information I implore you to read the entire syllabus. Let us move on to the Court’s decision. When I refer to “the Court”, I am referencing the official opinion delivered by a majority vote (5 to 4) of the Supreme Court. “The dissent” is the four Supreme Court justices who disagreed with the majority vote. The majority of 5 published the official opinion of “the Court”, which under American law is considered Constitutionally binding. The minority of 4 published their official “dissent”, which serves to clears the conscious of the dissenters as to why their colleagues were wrong and make for interesting discussion among the public. The dissent has no legal authority of its own, and it important to note that legally, the majority is always right. Their beliefs are now law. However, since we know the Supreme Court is right, it can be helpful to think about whether or not they should be.

The Court ruled in favor of the three corporations that I will collectively refer to as “Hobby Lobby”. They did so for several reasons that by and large are based not on the First Amendment (which is more limiting) but off of The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), mentioned in the beginning of the syllabus. The reasons are as follows:

  1. Corporations are by definition the same as people : “Under the Dictionary Act, “the word ‘person’…include[s] corporations…as well as individuals,”” (19). Since they are the same as people, corporations are entitled to follow practices in accordance with their religious beliefs and conversely to not follow practices that are not in accordance.
  2. Mandating corporations to provide contraceptives they find morally wrong is a substantial burden against them. Should the corporations refuse to cover the contraceptives, “the economic consequences would be severe” (32). “For Hobby Lobby, the bill could amount to…about $475 million per year…these sums are surely substantial” (32). Furthermore, requiring Hobby Lobby to be complicit in what they see as a morally reprehensible act is also a substantial burden.
  3. Assuming that contraceptive access is a compelling Government interest, the ACA’s mandate is still not the least restrictive means. Though corporations may have religious beliefs and the mandate would be a substantial burden, the Government may still require it of them if it was “the least restrictive means of furthering[a] compelling Governmental interest” (1) according to RFRA. However, the Government can provide exemptions as it does for non-profit religious groups such as churches. Under this exemption, the Government would assume the cost sharing for the contraceptive access, not the corporation, and it would be a more restrictive means.

At first glance, the Court does make convincing points. Corporations are legally considered as people, and should they then have the same religious rights as people? Even if corporations are not people themselves, can owners restrictively practice their religion through their business? After all, “it is not at all uncommon for … corporations to further humanitarian and other altruistic objectives” (23) via charitable causes. Non-profit entities can have religious rights; should for-profit entities be treated the same?

The answer is a resounding no. Justice Ginsburg, in his dissent, quotes two rulings from the past to make his point concerning the Court’s reason #1. The George Washington of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Marshall, observed two centuries ago that “a corporation is “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law”” (73). Justice Stevens wrote in the recent Citizens United decision that corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires” (73). The court refers to The Dictionary Act to equate corporations to people, but the act itself provides exception where the “context” would “indicat[e] otherwise” (73)! The Court conveniently ignores the possibility of such a context, but the dissent makes note of it. Here, in the context of religious exercise, corporations simply cannot be people.

While corporations may engage in charity work, may follow the religious beliefs of their owners, and may participate in humanitarian objectives, at the end of the day their goal is wholly and entirely to make profit for shareholders. For that reason, corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires” (73). And for that reason, corporations cannot exercise religious beliefs. The Court insists that since corporations can do humanitarian things, they can also do religious things. That a corporation chooses to is commendable, but we must assume it is for profit! Corporations act to receive profit for their shareholders, and charity work can contribute to a better public image for the purpose of profit.

The Court rebuts that the 1993 Congress meant for the RFRA to include corporations. Without getting into technicalities, the dissent makes it clear that Congress made no such intention. Corporations have never been thought of as entities with religious or personal beliefs, as when owners decide to form corporations, they are willingly divorcing themselves from their business. The owner and the corporation are not one and the same.

Even so, the Court would have us believe that the owner’s religious beliefs are relevant to their corporation. But this would “put the personal opinion of employers and insurers over the practice of medicine” (65). Even worse, “it would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage” (67). Personal beliefs of an employer should not impose themselves on an employee when it has little to do with public good. It is important to understand that as far as the Court can be concerned, the employers have “sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception” (2). It is not their business to decide what beliefs are sincere or not, and what beliefs are correct or not. Even if correct and sincere however, what right does an employer have to impose those beliefs on their underlings in a profit making industry? Employees are selected for their contributions to profit, not their conformity to their employer’s norms. Corporations are for profit.

The dissent exercises a three tier criticism against the line of reasoning I provided for the Court. While I agree fully with their first criticism of reason #1 (which I summarized and interpreted above), the dissent falters on reason #2 and I find the Court within reason here. I do not buy the dissent’s (and mainstream liberal) argument that providing contraceptive access is no big deal. The dissent would have us believe that Hobby Lobby, should it be treated as an entity with religious beliefs (and, to be clear, it should not), would not be substantially burdened for following the Government mandate. The dissent contends that providing contraceptive access is incomparable to using contraceptives oneself. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the dissent, quotes Grote v. Sebelius: ““[n]o individual decision by an employee and her physician—be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or have a hip replaced—is in any meaningful sense [her employer’s] decision or action”(82) . But unfortunately, it is her employer’s business. That contraception, infection, or hip replacement is on her employer’s dollar.

Make note that the contraception would be cost shared by the employer. For some, contraceptive use after egg fertilization is akin to murder. Would, in that circumstance, providing access to murder be different from murdering itself? Is knowingly allowing a crime – and providing the means for it – different from committing a crime?  In American law, this is known as complicity, and it is illegal. There is an internal contradiction in the dissent’s opinion. Here, the majority is correct. Hobby Lobby is substantially burdened for being required to allow an action its owners see as morally reprehensible.

Even so, there is an important cost burden against Hobby Lobby. Should the corporation refuse to cover the contraceptives, “the economic consequences would be severe” (32). “For Hobby Lobby, the bill could amount to…about $475 million per year…these sums are surely substantial” (32). The dissent does not mention the fiscal burden once in Justice Ginsburg’s opinion. We must assume that they tacitly acquiesce to the majority here. Yet reason #2, despite its internal legitimacy, rests on the premise that Hobby Lobby could have religious beliefs and morality of its own.

Seeing as it cannot, reason #2 becomes irrelevant. Let us move to reason #3 of the majority. Here, the Court reasons that an alternative to requiring Hobby Lobby to cost share contraceptive purchases with its employees is to make the Government pick up the tab. After all, the Government does so for non-profits. “The most straightforward [alternative],” the Court asserts, “would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing . . . contraceptives . . . to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections” (41). In other words, let the Government pay.

But to what end? What if a corporation had religious views that forbid it from providing any Western medical care, or insurance based on usury, or vaccinations access? The least restrictive means, according to the Court, would be for the Government to pick up the tab, always! The Court recognized the danger of their decision, and fortunately ruled out any analogies. The syllabus clarifies that “this decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage man-dates, e.g.,for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs” (6).

But why? Neither the syllabus nor the Court’s opinion explains the difference between other issues and this one. Perhaps it is because there isn’t one. The reasoning of the Court would be invalid if we can prove the speciousness of their argument should analogy be used, despite the fact that the Court rejects analogy entirely. In almost any conceivable circumstance, crafty problem solvers could find a way for Government to accommodate for corporations with the people’s tax dollars. The limited scope the Court offers renders RFRA’s least restrictive means principle almost useless. If almost any infringement can be absolved through Government dollars, then there is hardly anything a corporation cannot get away with on religious grounds at all. In attempting to preserve RFRA’s intentions, the Court has interpreted it in a way that would decapitate it. Thankfully (yet erroneously), they rule out the possibility of analogy, no matter how rational it would be to use it.

Even within a strict legal framework, the Supreme Court fails to properly size up the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. Its first reason for the ruling deals with the idea that corporations are legally akin to people, and therefore have religious rights the same as people. This idea fails when considering context, in which personal beliefs cannot equate to institutional principles in a profit making industry.

The Court’s second reason, however, is sound, in that the ACA mandate for contraceptive access is a substantial burden to the employer. Here the dissent is inconsiderate of religious beliefs in an intrusive way that is for another article to explain. There would also be a significant monetary cost that would amount to substantial burden. That aside, the second reason depends on the first reason, which falls flat on its face. So it makes of no use to discuss the second reason.

The third reason of the Court’s decision is that the Government can pick up a corporation’s tab as a least restrictive means. They would have the Government (also known as the public) pay the corporation’s bill. Effectively, almost all religious rights cases concerning corporations in the future could be dealt with in this way, rendering RFRA totally ineffective. Although the Court ruled out such possibility, they provide no reasoning for doing so. Since I assume RFRA was written with the intention of it being effective and the Court hasn’t taken sufficient time to defend their own argument, the third reason is wholly unpersuasive.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Hobby Lobby is incredibly wrong. Its implications are serious and are the concern of another article. For now, know this: the Court makes a case that is logically queer (corporations can have religion) and inconsiderate to American law (The Religious Freedom Restoration Act). The Court has failed the American people in interpreting the law reasonably and correctly. It is astonishing that the most precious institution of our judicial system, the guardian of our Constitution, could blunder so simply.

Sardonically, let us pray for the Republic.

The Great Balancing Act of the First Amendment

I find that the media is misrepresenting the Town of Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court Case in subtle ways, ignoring the pragmatism of the principles upheld. The subject of this article is to evaluate the Supreme Court’s decision, along with the dissents from the actual opinions published by the court, not from what the media purports.

You can find the Supreme Court’s official and constitutionally authoritative summary and ruling of the case here. I will refer to it continually, and do recommend reading – it’s easy to understand.

Before continuing, let’s have a lesson on the First Amendment. When I refer to what is constitutional, I do not claim higher authority on constitutional law than the very best: the Supreme Court justices. I am merely stating what I find better in line with the ethical spirit of the First Amendment and the separation of Church and State. There are two components of the First Amendment to be discussed:

  • Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no lawrespectingan establishment of religion…
    • No government body can prefer one religion over the other.
  • Free Exercise Clause:        …or prohibiting the free exercisethereof”
    • Likewise, no government body can prevent the exercise of religion.

The two components of the First Amendment above form the Religion Clause, which is a balancing act of its two aspects. On the one hand, government cannot impose a particular religious belief on citizens. But government also cannot prevent the exercise of religion by citizens. The two come in conflict in a number of unexpected ways which will be covered throughout.  For example, when dealing with citizens in government: the government member cannot impose his/her religious beliefs but is also free to to exercise their religion in government.

In the delicate relationship between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, we must be clear what this entails in Jefferson’s separation of Church and State. As a society, we emphasize that religion cannot influence government on an institutional scale. We forget this also means government cannot influence religion on that scale. Stephen L. Carter, a Yale Law Professor and once intern to Justice Thurgood Marshall, in his book A Culture of Disbelief, warns that  “the American idea is threatened when religious power mixes too intimately with political power…[but] the greater threat comes when the Church is no longer kept merely separate but is forced into a position of utter marginality.” To summarize, government members have every right to bring their religion into government via the Free Exercise Clause, but are not allowed to impose their religion institutionally via the Establishment Clause.


On to Greece v. Galloway. In brief, the Town of Greece, New York, had monthly town hall meetings that began with a religious invocation. “From the time Greece established its prayer practice in 1999 until litigation loomed nine years later, all of its monthly chaplains were Christian clergy” (Kagan 69). After a brief spell to avoid litigation with a Jewish, Wiccan, and Bahai invocation, the Town of Greece returned to using solely Catholic and Protestant prayer service. The Supreme Court has ruled  “that no violation of the Constitution has been shown” (The Court 5), and I will critique their reasoning below.

For the purpose of clarity, here are the opinions published by the Court:

  • Majority opinion (The Court, Justice Alito, and Justice Kennedy): these opinions believe that sectarian prayers in a government assembly are constitutional in principle, “so long as the practice over time is not exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief” (The Court 19). These opinions do not believe that the Town of Greece’s invocations were doing any of those things,  and is thus constitutional. These opinions have no problem with the town “acknowledging the central place that
    religion plays” in their lives (Kennedy 27).
  • Dissent opinion (Justice Breyer, Justice Kagan): these opinions believe that sectarian prayers in a government assembly are unconstitutional in principle. These opinions do believe that the Town of Greece’s invocations were sectarian, and are thus unconstitutional. These opinions do agree with the majority that Americans “are a religious people” and “prayer draws some warrant from tradition in a town hall” (Kagan 73)

What we see clear in both opinions is the idea that opening prayer is an acceptable part of any government body, and does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Members of government and the public, both of which are citizens of the United States, have the right to Free Exercise which includes public prayer. The question at hand is whether or not public prayer, following the Free Exercise Clause, can be sectarian and still not “prefer one religion over the other” via the Establishment Clause.

Following the majority opinion, in principle I do not think that sectarian prayer necessarily exploits, proselytizes, or disparages faiths or beliefs and thus is constitutional. Rather, it reaffirms that Americans “are a religious people”. The reasoning is as so: “mature adults… [are] presumably not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure” (Kennedy 22-23). A prayer that calls on the name of Jesus is simply accommodating for those who recognize the divinity of Jesus, who have the right to Free Exercise of their religion in public forum, and who may be more readily prepared to govern when in a spiritual state of consciousness that is satisfactory to them. Likewise, for a public audience such as one in the town hall with Christians will likely feel more comfortable and assured of the government’s responsibility to religious accommodation should their religion be specifically invoked. It will likely not, when used selectively, influence the religious practices of others in a room such as to violate the First Amendment.

When a governing body promotes the same sectarian language or prayers repeatedly however – from the same sects or religion – it is without a doubt in violation of the Establishment Clause. This was the case of the Town of Greece, which for nine years straight, on a monthly basis, used only prayer invocations from Catholics and Protestants. The majority opinion seems to beat around the bush and simply ignore the fact that this cannot possibly be anything but the promotion of one religion over all others. It is unconstitutional, and as one can read for oneself, the arguments the majority opinion fall flat on their feet when reading the dissents. It is excluding those that do not adhere to the values of those prayers and equates those values to the values of civic participation in Greece, New York.

For that reason, sectarian prayers should not always be of the same sect or religion over and over again. Justice Kagan, who dissents, writes: “when one month a clergy member refers to Jesus, and the next to Allah or Jehovah…the government does not identify itself with one religion or align itself with that faith’s citizens, and the effect of even sectarian prayer is transformed” (Kagan 19). Here, I agree with the dissent that sectarian prayer is alright so long as the prayer is not exclusively of one sect or religion.

Some may argue that sectarian language should be banned altogether in exchange for inclusive prayer. There is indeed a significant difference in inclusivity from a prayer that calls for shared ethical values or a commitment to the divine than the Lord’s prayer, a Jewish chanting of Sh’ma and V’ahavta, or a Muslim Adhan (Kagan 59-60). That is certainly true and all opinions published agree on the preferableness of inclusive language. However, it comes with an incredible danger for the court to specify exactly what is inclusive and what is not, as well as difficult to justify constitutionally. By banning certain religious invocations and allowing others government would “prevent the excerise of religion’ in the way adherents (who are citizens) would have it, undoubtedly violating the Free Exercise Clause. It would also “prefer one religion over the other” in terms of prayer, clearly against the Establishment Clause. Ironically, totally mandated inclusivity that is specified by the Court would violate the Religious Clause of the First Amendment more then anything else.

That is where I disagree with the dissent, which seems to call for strict impositions of inclusivity on chaplains in public prayer services. Justice Alito’s majority opinion, section II from page 32 to 35, masterfully explains that point. Justice Brewer is right in that Courts should require that government bodies recommend inclusive prayer services, but they should not be mandated for a number of complications Alito addresses:

Not only is there no historical support for the proposition that only generic prayer is allowed, but as our country has become more diverse, composing a prayer that is acceptable to all members of the community who hold religious beliefs has become harder and harder. It was one thing to compose a prayer that is acceptable to both Christians and Jews; it is much harder to compose a prayer that is also acceptable to followers of Eastern religions that are now well represented in this country. Many local clergy may find the project daunting, if not impossible, and some may feel that they cannot in good faith deliver such a vague prayer. In addition, if a town attempts to go beyond simply recommending that a guest chaplain deliver a prayer that is broadly acceptable to all members of a particular community (and the groups represented in different communities will vary), the town will inevitably encounter sensitive problems. Must a town screen and, if necessary, edit prayers before they are given? If prescreening is not required, must the town review prayers after they are delivered in order to determine if they were sufficiently generic? And if a guest chaplain crosses the line, what must the town do? Must the chaplain be corrected on the spot? Must the town strike this chaplain (and perhaps his or her house of worship) from the approved list?

Justice Breyer does correctly note the House of Representative’s recommendation for inclusivity, and I do think Justice Alito would agree that these would be suitable for the Town of Greece as requirements for a prayer service. Unfortunately, for political reasons, the sake of simplicity, or my assessment being wrong, these recommendations were foolishly not recommended:

“The guest chaplain should keep in mind that the House of Representatives is comprised of Members of many different faith traditions.

“The length of the prayer should not exceed 150 words.
“The prayer must be free from personal political views or partisan politics, from sectarian controversies, and from any intimations pertaining to foreign or domestic policy” (Breyer 55).


To conclude, I find that sectarian prayer in government bodies to be perfectly Constitutional and in no way violating the separation of Church and State, as a result of the delicate balance between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. However, these sectarian prayers cannot all be from the same religion at all times, and inclusive prayers should be recommended by the Courts and by government bodies, while not mandated or specified by government bodies. The majority is right to argue against mandated and specified inclusion, and the dissent is right to declare the Town of Greece’s religious prayer services unconstitutional for praying in the same religion. In the plural society America is, religion for better or for worse has its role in public discourse, and we must be willing to accept that.



Note: I did not discuss the Court’s use of Marsh v. Chambers, the tradition of prayer service as a historic reality, the municipal technicalities of Greece’s selection of clergymen, or the the role of religion in a plural society because I think that has been thoroughly discussed on the internet. For that end, I commend Justice Kagan’s use of Marsh v. Chambers, the entire court’s use of the tradition of prayer service, the dissent’s criticism of Greece’s selection process, and I’m a bit more muddled on the role of religion in plural society. I definitely disagree with Justice Kagan on that point, and somewhat agree with the majority – however, I think American civil religion is rightly withering into a myth.

I also did not discuss the implications of the Town of Greece v. Galloway, but to be flat honest the Court for the most part reaffirmed Marsh and very little has changed. It is useful to analyze what it should have been, rather than the status quo that been preserved, however, and that is what I have done.

Divorcing religion and knowledge

There is a pervasive ignorance in our intelligentsia that I find so deeply troubling and insulting. We have divorced, in mind and heart, religion from knowledge. In doing so, we are denying our own simple common sense – that Christianity has to do with the Enlightenment, that Islam has to do with terrorism, that Daoism has to do with Chinese farming. We have ignored the very essence and foundation of so many human beings in the world, turning a blind eye to that which troubles and challenges us.

To anyone who claims to know American politics and has never opened a Bible: you do not know American politics.

To anyone who claims to know Middle Eastern history and has never opened a Qur’an: you do not know the Middle East.

To anyone who claims to know Chinese culture and has never opened a Dao De Jing: you do not know Chinese culture.


Many in intellectual circles in the West, frightfully, know more about Grendel then about Goliath, or about Candide more then the Bible. Too, they know more Egyptian, Roman, Greek, or Babylonian mythology then about Hinduism, Islam, or Sikhism. And then they claim to not be ignorant. They claim to stand for pluralism. They claim to stand for liberalism. They claim to be knowledgeable about the world. Too, they claim to not discriminate against Islam and to stand “with the Muslims” on this subject or that. Too, they claim to be enlightened for the knowledge Hinduism isn’t exactly polytheistic.

This is not about proselytizing or engaging in mysticism (or worse yet, spirituality!). This is about the common human decency to understand your fellow man and the world around you.


Learn about the world, since you’re already stuck living in it.



Here’s what I said to a friend of mine once:

I have emotional trouble with people who have no desire to learn who I am and where I come from, and then claim to be friends.

That would be almost all of them. And it keeps me up at night.


Maps, Maps, and more Maps!

Boy, do I love maps!

This is a telling list of 40 maps about the world – you should check out them all!


This makes for 91 maps I’ve looked at solely for the purpose of blogging them thus far!

Lebanon Loses 78000 Books To Terrorism: Tripoli’s “Al Sa’eh” Library Burned

“I’m not Muslim but I’m more Muslim than the lunatics who torched that library”

And he is sure damn right. It reminds me of a quote by Muhammad Abduh:

“I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam”

A Separate State of Mind | A Blog by Elie Fares


2014 is off to a horrible start in Lebanon. The explosion that took place in Beirut yesterday, in the year’s first few days, has been paralleled by another act of terrorism in Lebanon’s northern capital, where extremist gunmen torched the city’s biggest library, Lebanon’s second, burning it to the ground.

They accused the priest running the library, a man who has been fighting to keep that place alive against contractors who worked to dismantle the building in which it resided, of publishing an article that offends Islam. I guess offenses are in the eye of the beholder. In this case, the eyes are for illiterate people who can’t read and who don’t know the value of a book.

This is the supposed article in question:

Srour article

The country is burning, let’s not worry about a library. A lot of people might say that. But the library in question was a true…

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God is on a shelf

God is on a shelf,

That one reads every Sunday.

God is on the desk,

That one studies after work.

God is on the internet,

That one browses on Facebook.

God is on a notebook,

That one stumbles on in class.

God is on a phone,

That beeps every while.


Knowledge and ignorance

and sorrow and happiness

and family and money

and food and work

and life and death

and fun and play

is in our minds –

but not God,

oh no…

God is on a shelf

That one reads every Sunday.


Like Pope Francis? You’ll love Jesus.

This expresses a lot of what I’ve been thinking lately. I never said much because either way, it’s difficult to talk about the Pope when you know little about Catholicism. Then again, what does Time know about Catholicism?




Perspectives on the Concept of Love in Islam

“What! Did you then think that We had created you in vain?” – – al Qur’an (23:115)

Oh, for God’s Sake! In the Pub

Shout out to Arkenaten and the blogs he writes for for always being entertaining and enjoyable…if nothing else! Write on.


Enquiries on Atheism


Coach and Horses…Chester,England

In light of the few recent  ‘heavy’ posts I shall post something lighthearted, but still with a religious theme.

Take a breather for a few minutes. 

Oh, for God’s Sake! In the Pub

The two soot-blackened, temporary, volunteer firemen, sat at the bar, supping their beer.

“Terrible,” Alf said, shaking his head.

“Dreadful,” agreed his erstwhile companion, Bert.

“Y’know, I never realised ‘til now that building was a place of worship, Bert.”

“Well, y’wouldn’t, would you? I mean, there’s only Fazel, his family and his cousin, Ishmael. So they’re not likely to build a big one, round here, are they?”

“I always thought it was a Laundromat, them going in all dressed in their bed sheets, like,” said Alf, theological man-of-the –world.

“I thought it was a doctor’s rooms,” opined Bert.

“How d’yer reckon on that?” asked Alf.

“Well, all that moaning an’ groaning that comes from inside. Thought…

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