Weeks earlier, H.L. planned that the “Winter Study” First Amendment Course at Williams College would end on January 25, 2019 in a crescendo.  The final class subject would be “establishment of religion” that the first amendment and Bill of Rights prohibit in their first words, expressing a novel and uniquely American liberty.  That first commandment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . .” would conclude the course.  Two classic establishment clause cases, the 2014 SCOTUS decision in Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway and the high court’s recent travel ban decision in Trump v. Hawaii would be fitting closers.

Chief Justice Roberts

In the latter, SCOTUS sustained Trump’s heavily amended third set of alien entry restrictions over bitter dissents from four justices.  Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, reasoned that despite overwhelming evidence that the President harbored and was motivated by bias toward Muslims and Islam, possessed ample statutory authority to order the entry restrictions, and that on this third try, the administration had checked the boxes necessary to exercise that authority.  Honestly and bravely, Roberts did not flinch nor dissemble, explicitly setting forth several of Trump’s blatantly anti-Muslim statements, showing his religiously bigoted intent.  Among those quoted by Roberts was a Trump statement made repeatedly during the 2016 campaign and republished by him for months after his inauguration on “Preventing Muslim Immigration.”  Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what [the hell] is going on.”[1]  Roberts even noted a fact that rebutted one of the administration’s defenses of all three travel bans, that they covered only six to eight majority Muslim countries, not restricting entry from many others that are home to a majority of  the world’s Muslims.  Roberts pointed to Trump saying that the “travel ban. . . should be far larger, tougher, more specific” but “stupidly that would not be politically correct,” while he re-tweeted links to three anti-Muslim propaganda videos.

Fred Korematsu

The four dissenters, and most bitterly Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg, cited those Trump statements and actions and quoted and cited many more, including Trump’s assertion that FDR “did the same thing” when he ordered the internment of some 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.  Actions that were upheld in the infamous Korematsu ruling by SCOTUS.

That gave Roberts the opportunity to quote from Justice Jackson’s bitter dissent in Korematsu, condemn the decision, as “gravely wrong the day it was decided,” “overruled in the court of history” and formally overrule it on June 25, 2018, 73 years, 6 months and 8 days after it was decided.  Korematsu apparently is still revered by Donald Trump.

In the other case planned for the last class, Town of Greece et al., in another 5-4 decision SCOTUS ruled that a pervasively Christian prayer service that an upstate New York town of 94,000 held at the opening of each monthly town board meeting, did not violate the establishment clause’s prohibition of government endorsing religion or favoring any faith over others.  For a decade, the town board meetings typically began with Christian clergy asking townspeople to “stand and pray in the name of Jesus Christ” and variously invoked “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross,” “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ” “the life and death, resurrection and ascension of the savior Jesus Christ” and asking for “the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the Greece town board meets.”

After two town residents, Linda Stephens, an atheist and Susan Galloway, a Jew, objected and sued to stop the prayer services, Christian clergy began subsequent town board meetings attacking these women.  They called them a “minority” who were “ignorant of the history of our country” and lamented that other towns, unlike Greece, did not have “God-fearing leaders.”

As I prepared to lead class discussion of these two disturbing but somewhat reassuringly close and divided court decisions, news from upstate New York flashed across my screen.  Four young men were in custody, charged with a plot to kill the residents of another upstate New York community.  Islamberg is a hamlet that is home to some 200 Muslims, situated in Delaware County at the eastern end of New York’s southern tier.

Vincent Vetromile

The four boy-men aged 18, 18, 20 and one under 18 had amassed 23 shotguns and rifles and handmade bombs packed with nails.  Vincent Vetromile, the apparent plot leader, had social media posts calling Muslim immigrants “rapefugees” providing “a good reason to get rid of all Muslims” including “kids” who “have been shown to be terrorists too and have killed our people” as “the Koran tells them to kill us.”  Do these rape and murder references to unwelcome immigrants remind the reader of something or someone?

It also was revealed that Vetromile forgave his hero for not accepting an invitation to attend Vincent’s 2017 Eagle Scout induction ceremony.  “Dear @ POTUS. . . it was tonight.  Wish you had come but I get you’re busy.”

For H.L.’s committed readers, it is now beyond obvious where that scout induction ceremony was held and where all four Muslim hating would be terrorists live and were raised.  Greece, New York, of course, governed by its “God-fearing leaders” and seemingly visited recently by a just and angry God.

[1]   The bracketed language was spoken by Trump but does not appear in the statement that was posted on his website until May 2017.