John Ragosta

John Ragosta is the author of the forthcoming book, “Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed,” and is a visiting assistant professor of history at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

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Town Prayers: What Does the Supreme Court Mean By 'Coercion'?

Demonstrators hold signs in front of the Supreme Court on Nov. 6, 2013 during oral arguments of Greece v. Galloway. RNS photo

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a city, town, or county could open its regular meetings with a sectarian (that is, Christian) prayer without violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Not unexpectedly, the much-anticipated Town of Greece v. Galloway decision split the court 5-4. It is, for that and other reasons, a less than satisfying decision.

The essence of the opinion is that if ministers are asked to give an invocation to establish a serious and contemplative tone at official functions (whether a congressional session or town board meeting), it does not matter if prayers are consistently Christian (or Jewish or Muslim). So long as the government does not control the prayers’ content, is nondiscriminatory in choosing who may pray (even atheists would have an equal opportunity to open meetings), and does not mandate that people attend or participate in prayers or penalize those who do not, the prayers may continue.

Can There Be a Rational Compromise on the Pledge of Allegiance?

by John Ragosta 04-23-2014

John Ragosta, author of “Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed.” Photo courtesy of Hamilton College/RNS

Yet another Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit has been filed, this time with New Jersey humanists challenging the requirement that each school day begin with recitation of the pledge describing the United States as one nation, “under God.”

This case joins a bevy of previous cases that have wended their way through the courts, costing school districts and states millions of taxpayer dollars and contributing to bitter disputes across the country. To date, the Supreme Court has studiously avoided ruling on such cases, but if this continues, eventually, the court will be required to join the fray.

I am always sorry to see these cases: On the one hand, I am sympathetic with the students and parents who do not want their children indoctrinated in religion by a government, even with a very general declaration of the existence of God. (And I am always disappointed that so many people who vehemently insist that government is incompetent want government to lead prayer.)

Something to Celebrate on Religious Freedom Day

by John Ragosta 01-16-2013
RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Matthew Harris Jouett. RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia

Today is Religious Freedom Day — a day to celebrate the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. Why celebrate it?

Celebrate because our government does not use our tax dollars to propagate religion, something Jefferson found “sinful and tyrannical.” This does not mean that you have a right to stop any government action that you happen to think violates your religious beliefs — a ridiculous claim repeated during last year’s battle over insurance coverage for contraceptives.