"God save this court" and more

It is my understanding that the establishment clause has been interpreted by the courts as a ban not only on the establishment of a state religion, but also on promoting one religion over another, or religion over lack of religion. If so, why does the Supreme Court open with the words “God save this court”, and why are congressional meetings allowed to be opened with prayer?

NOTE: I put this in GQ because I’m looking for a factual answer (as in, the legal reasoning which allows these practices), not a debate over whether these practices should continue.

For Congress, the Constitution gives each house the power to determine its own rules. The House and the Senate have used that power to say that they’ll open with a prayer, dammit.

Most likely, the only person who might have standing to file a lawsuit to argue that Congress shouldn’t open with a prayer would be a member of Congress. But because they are a member of the body which decides its own rules, they probably don’t have much of a leg to stand on (or litigate with).

As for the courts, I don’t know.

The Supreme Court today heard the argument over whether adding 'under god" to the pledge of allegiance is a violation.

In the extremely unlikely event that they find it to be one, then certainly other phrases, like “God save this court,” “In God we Trust” on money* and the presence of a Congressional chaplain who starts sessions with a prayer would also be vulnerable.

The reason they are still there is a combination of tradition and the extreme vituperation that anyone who attacks them faces. Mr. Dooley once said, in essence: The Supreme Court follows the election returns. While that’s certainly not always true, it’s often been true in the past on this sensitive subject.

*I think this has already been ruled non-offending, but I can’t cite the case.

If I’m not mistaken, the Supreme Court only agreed to hear the case, they haven’t actually heard it as of yet.

If you look at the school prayer cases (Lee v. Weisman, Santa Fe v. Dole), then I think you’ll discover that the basis of the Court’s decisions disallowing prayer at school events is that it coerces people to tacitly participate in a religious ritual when attending a state-run event.

Therefore, I think that the court saying “God save this Court” doesn’t violated the Establishment Clause because there’s no coercion involved.

Also, I think it kinda just gets thrown in the “fuck-it bucket”–it’s not important enough for the Court to get people all riled up about.