The small town of Greece, New York is thrust into the national spotlight this week as the Supreme Court hears arguments on whether the town’s council can open its meetings with Christian prayers. Sarah Barringer Gordon, professor of law and history at the University of Pennsylvania, examines the Greece case and the historical role of religion in public life.
Jessica Ahlquist, a 16-year-old-junior at Cranston High School West, is an outspoken atheist who believes that prayer should not be on display in public schools. Last month she expressed her views at school board hearings and a federal judge ruled in her favor deeming prayer's presence at Cranston High School to be unconstitutional. In retaliation, residents have threatened Ahlquist and others like State Representative Peter G. Palumbo have called her "an evil little thing."
The United States, by some reckoning, is among the most consistently religious countries on earth. More of us go to a house of worship on a regular basis than in most countries. The majority of us believe in a higher power. And we have both more religions and a higher level of religious tolerance than anywhere else on the planet. But is religion really an American value? And if so, why has the separation of church and state been held so fundamental since the days of Thomas Jefferson?