Thank you Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Souter, Ms. O'Connor, Ms. Ginsburg and Mr.
Breyer. Now I can go to a football game and not have to listen to
somebody at full volume over the loud speakers trying to bring God down
to the 50 yard line.
As we all know by now, the Supreme Court recently ruled that public
school students cannot lead stadium crowds in prayer over the public
address system before a high school football game. The decision made it
clear that this is not an issue of free speech, but rather of the
endorsement of a religious belief by a public institution. The Court
said that, "the delivery of a message such as the invocation here . .
.pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages
public prayer is not properly characterized as 'private' speech.... The
policy involves both perceived and actual endorsement of religion." I
wonder which would have shocked Thomas Jefferson more, seeing a football
game or hearing a prayer at one.
I have spent a lot of years believing that my religion -- whatever I
believe -- is my personal business, and I really object when other
people try to force theirs on me. That includes public prayer in
large, heterogeneous groups.
I seldom agree with Cal Thomas, but he did express my thoughts on this
issue. "The greater power to do good lies within individuals, not the
state. Conservative Christians, especially, are fooling themselves when
they think public prayers are a sign that all must be right with the
world....Such prayers trivialize the act of prayer."
Not being an expert on matters theological, I consulted a friend who
asked my friend the minister for her opinion on public prayer. It is
her belief that prayer is appropriate in two places: Individual prayer
drawing on inner resources, and corporate prayer within a community of
like minds. Such a community, of course, includes houses of worship of
all religions, and private organizations of like minded people. It
specifically does not include football games.
A letter writer named John Omicinski said in the Denver Post, "This case
. . . takes Washington's beloved country down an unmistakable path to
atheism..." That statement of religious intolerance is scary. (My
friend the philosopher censored my somewhat stronger original
reaction.) The fact is that the suit in the Court case was brought by
a Catholic family and a Mormon family, both deeply religious, whose
children were being harassed over religion by their schoolmates.
The real division is not between atheists and Christians, but between
those who are retreating into intolerant fundamentalism in all
religions, and the rest of us. Members of America's mainline churches
are certainly Christian, but they are often branded atheists, along with
the Jews and Muslims and Hindus and everyone else who doesn't agree.
Religious intolerance has been creating political battles now for
centuries. What goes around comes around. We're still doing it in
American politics today. Religion is being used as a political weapon.
Various groups are trying to appear "more religious" than their
opponents, as a means of winning elections and gaining power. It
doesn't always work. There are lots of us don't like to be told by a
politician what we must believe.
The "intolerants" might find it useful to remember that we need to be
careful what we wish for. We might get it. The logical extension of a
retreat into intolerance of the beliefs of others -- in any religion --
leads to a society that is intolerant of all differences.
The men who wrote our constitution knew first hand about religious
intolerance and made a serious effort to protect us from it. So far the
First Amendment has been generally successful in doing so, but it is a
The Supreme Court is, of course, under attack for this decision. But as
a matter of record, two justices of the majority were appointed by
President Reagan, one by President Bush, and two by President
Clinton, so nobody can reasonably say this was a political decision.
Rather, it was a decision of law.
And the law says that school endorsed public prayer is
unconstitutional. You talk to your God about it. I'll talk to mine.