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HomeCommentaryHey, Justice Kennedy! You may not be as legitimate as you think!

Hey, Justice Kennedy! You may not be as legitimate as you think!


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Anthony Kennedy, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
Anthony Kennedy, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Here’s a ceremonial prayer from the year 581 BCE:

“This is the temple of the Lord! This is the temple of the Lord! This is the temple of the Lord!”

Jeremiah, the infamous Hebrew prophet, made it an issue in chapter seven of the book that bears his name. And his threefold argument essentially goes like this:

  1.  Yahweh does not sanction the sanctimonious recitation of words.
  2.  Some of these words even sound cogent and pious, but they are deceptive.
  3.  They are deceptive to the extent that certain belligerent behaviors remain unchallenged by those in power, and unchanged among the average citizenry.

And so, fast-forward millennia, centuries, decades, years, months, days, hours and minutes to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority of the United States Supreme Court: “Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define…”

Note here the use of the term, “precepts,” coupled with the clause, “far beyond that authority of government…”  The question, of course, seems to orbit the either/or nature of human beings who have been elected to serve the public, by which we mean the aggregate population of a 238-year old nation. That is, do politicians speak for the divine, or do they speak for their own self-and-national interests?

And the answer is, Yes and No.  The answer is that, as far as an agent of the government is concerned, there is the possibility that we may obscure what God wants to happen in the name, ironically, of that very deity.   Moreover, let’s say the point of religious freedom includes the space and the time in which an individual might make up her own mind.  And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that such individuals are often intimidated by the ceremonial displays of your average town council meeting in Greece, New York…  Or, a representative of the people may help respect-worthy voters to ponder the mysterious realities which are “beyond the authority of government to alter or define…”

Well, well, well…

If that’s the case, the recent 5-to-4 decision of the highest court does not clarify what is and is not a non-sectarian endorsement of religion.

In fact, we do endorse religion, and perhaps the worst mode of verbose religiosity, when we assume “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.”   Really?  Huh?   That truth-claim may deserve a hearing, but I doubt whether it is authentically heard prior to the reading of the minutes outside of Rochester.

The next item on the agenda, with full disclosure, happens to be my pet peeve.


Precepts… Analytics… aka, Propositional statements…  Doctrinal tenets… Dogma…  Whatever you want to call them, my poetic suggestion is that there may be Ultimate Concern that cannot be reduced to a cognitive value.

Anyway, Justice Kennedy suggests that we understand our “existence” according to something we can articulate with an Enlightenment logic that is currently crumbling into mildewed ruin. He posits that a majority of the United States prefers this cerebral hegemony over and above the uncertainty of the mystics, not to mention, the emotionality of the prophets… Take care, I say, you who celebrate the mere ceremony of authenticity and authority.  You are not as legitimate as you may think!


Scott Kinder-Pyle
Scott Kinder-Pyle
Scott Kinder-Pyle identifies as an ordained pastor in Presbyterian Church (USA), and has served as an adjunctive professor of philosophy, religion and literature at Eastern Washington and Gonzaga universities. Scott is a poet and the author of There’s No I in Debris—Except this One! In 2020 and 2021, he served as a resident chaplain at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, and has subsequently worked for Kindred and Gentiva Hospice as a Board Certified Chaplain [BCC], accountable to the Association of Professional Chaplains. Most recently, Salem Lutheran Church of Spokane’s West Central neighborhood has welcomed Scott as their interim pastor. He’s married to Sheryl going on 36 years, loves his children, Ian and Philip, enjoys films like Adaptation, ponders painting in the near future and appreciates the thinking of Emmanuel Levinas.

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