Greece v. Galloway: the day after

The transcript of the arguments in the Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court case is posted at the Supreme Court website.  Background and discussion on the case is available at SCotUSblog, and details of AU’s involvement in the case can be found at the au.org website.

My impression from an initial read? Justices Kagan and Ginsburg recognize that sectarian prayer to open governmental events is problematic, Justice Sotomayor focused on the impossibility of defining any prayer as “non-sectarian” and the issue of coercion (as did Kagan later on), and Justices Kennedy and Roberts (!) narrowed in on skepticism about the argument that it was allowed in the Marsh case because it was “historical” or “tradition” (i.e. the prayer/invocation had been done for a long time, therefore it was somehow acceptable?).

And I certainly got the impression that Justice Breyer was indicating he was an atheist, or at least agnostic (see pages 18-19).

Justices Alito, Scalia and (to a lesser degree) Roberts then focused on the impossibility of defining a prayer that would be acceptable to all religions (or people of no religion). And that’s certainly the right set of questions to ask: since there’s no way to please everyone’s religion, why not realize that there’s no real point in having an official prayer to open a governmental function, and definitely no requirement at all to do so, therefore just get rid of it? If people want to pray to their personal deity, have them do it in their own personal time. They were certainly asking the right questions, if perhaps being led to different conclusions.

But the rest of the discussion seemed to veer towards showing how when the court meddles in this kind of religious issue everyone seems to get angry and agitated (as Justice Kagan notes), and at that point everyone seemed to agree that they’d prefer that this issue would just go away, but that thanks to Marsh it won’t. I got the impression that several of the Justices really recognized that there is an issue here that has no easy resolution if prayer is allowed in some legislative sessions and perhaps not in others, and no easy way to reconcile various precedents with a consistent approach that sets a strict line. Except of course the clear line of doing the unpopular thing and prohibiting prayer in governmental functions, at which point the same people who constantly complain that children aren’t allowed to pray in public schools (which is untrue) would complain even louder.

Sounds to me like the Justices are going to find a way to rule in the most extremely narrow way possible, to affect this case and only this case, in order to avoid any ruling that could be used as precedent over establishing a formal line on what constitutes “too much” government involvement in religion.

Language, intent and depth

The words “fascist”, “Nazi”, “socialist”, “communism”, “libtard”, and phrases like “don’t tread on me”, “death panels” or “activist judges”, as well as referring to the President as “Barry Soetoro” or “Barack HUSSEIN Obama”.

In political discussions (unless you’re discussing Axis countries in the 1940s), the use of these words and phrases are a clear indication that you are not a serious thinker, and most probably a far-right-leaning one. They also indicate that your political opinions are superficial enough that they would probably fit on a bumper sticker… and inevitably, they do.

They are also usually an indicator that your main form of political interaction is posting GIFs that denote anyone who simply disagrees with your opinion as an idiot.

Any of the above indicators generally lead me to regard someone as not worth having a political discussion with, since they are not willing to allow subtleties or shades of gray into the discussion, or accept that not everyone thinks in lockstep–with them OR against them. My question is: what are the words and phrases that cause people on the right to “switch off” in a similar way when discussing issues with left-leaning people?

I imagine that “gun nut”, “Teatards”, “ReTHUGlicans” are some of those trigger words. What else?

Our goal should be to remove these simplistic (and typically unnecessarily insulting) words from our speech, precisely to avoid that automatic shutdown in conversation. Not in a superficial way (by simply not using the words, while retaining the mindset), but by refining our ways of thinking to avoid simplistic, bumper-sticker philosophies. If the country’s problems could be solved by chanting slogans at each other, they’d be fixed by now.

There are many intelligent, thoughtful and well-meaning Republicans, Libertarians and Democrats in the country. There are mean-spirited, bigoted and destructive ones too: my guess is that they are far fewer, but they do seem to make more noise and attract more attention than they deserve. Words like “DemocRATS” and “ReTHUGlicans” sweep all those differences under the carpet, and paint an entire half of the country with a stereotype that makes discussion impossible: you don’t negotiate or compromise with someone you believe is an idiot. We have seen what this attitude can do, and it’s time to change it.

Start changing yours by not using those stereotyped, insulting trigger words in your speech and online posts. Criticize a person’s actions, attitudes and words if you disagree with them, but do so with substance and without painting an entire demographic with a single brush. Hardly anyone on the Right disagrees with me on every issue, and I don’t share the opinion of every single Democrat. But if the only thing we agree on is that “the other side’ are a bunch of duplicitous, evil morons intent on destroying the country, then we’ll end up with a country not worth saving in the first place.