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A second harm is that evangelicals are mistrusted. Given the deep differences among Americans, evangelical voices have rightly appealed to pluralism as the means for citizens to coexist peacefully, respecting disagreement while working together on those things that do unite us as a nation. But this principled pluralism is made to be a lie when evangelicals employ the state to promote Christian prayers.

The third harm flows from an overly cozy relationship between government and willing local clergy. That the Christian faith receives succor from the city's prayer policy makes it less likely that the church will raise its prophetic voice to criticize the town board when it undertakes bad policies or its officials misbehave.

A fourth harm is the fostering of civil religion by the wedding of piety to patriotism. Civil religion is the confusion of the Christian faith with love of country; an elevation of certain ceremonies, traditions, and habits of a nation to the level of the sacred. This pseudo religion can have a powerful allure, especially to those who have a strong sense of patriotism, a good thing in itself, but not when uncritically mixed with the Gospel. It is a contradiction, of course, to say that the state must avoid establishing Christianity, as our Constitution does say, but then to blink at the establishment of this "common ground" faith.

Some defend the court's ruling as protecting religious exercise for Christians. But free exercise—or freedom of speech, for that matter—has never meant that a people of faith have a right to capture the engines of government and put them to work on behalf of their confession. Still others defend the court because municipal prayer makes Christian belief overall more plausible. This was an impulse in the past, but we have moved beyond a time when evangelicals among sought to make Christianity more marketable buy conforming to the dominate culture. In any case, what shouldn't be done is to harness the government to do the job of the church.

While the Supreme Court's handiwork in Town of Greece v. Galloway deviates from the principle of law that regards religion as a voluntary matter, there is some good to come from the case. The court rejected the complainants' invitation to preview the prayers and allow only those that were "nonsectarian" while excluding all others. Government should never have a role in sorting out "approved" prayers from "disapproved" prayers by whatever criteria. More deeply, the nonsectarian prayers advocated by the complainants are a phony pluralism, a vague theism not actually practiced by anyone. Their promotion of nonsectarianism parallels civil religion, a least-common-denominator faith that our Constitution no more allows to be established than the real thing.

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