Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Setting the Record Straight

There are a few things in life that really piss me off. Oh alright, there are a lot of things that piss me off, but one of my biggest pet peaves is when people of faith spread false information to make themselves appear persecuted. Such was the case as I read this article from CNN.
Public schools take a lot of criticism, but a growing, loosely organized movement is now moving from harsh words to action -- with parents taking their own children out of public schools and exhorting other families to do the same.

Led mainly by evangelical Christians, the movement depicts public education as hostile to religious faith and claims to be behind a surge in the number of students being schooled at home.

"The courts say no creationism, no prayer in public schools," said Roger Moran, a Winfield, Missouri, businessman and member of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee. "Humanism and evolution can be taught, but everything I believe is disallowed."

emphasis mine

Everything he believes? He's sure about this? Maybe he should find out for sure before he shoots his mouth off accusing people, schools and school teachers in particularly, of being intolerant. But this is the epitome of the conservative base - they are uninformed and willing to believe anything they are told. In fact, this is a subject that I have argued over with my own pastor.

So I feel like it's time to finally set the record straight.

In fact, it would be illegal for schools to prevent them from praying in school. What these people are referring to is the 1962 Supreme Court decision Engel v. Vitale that struck down the practice of State-sponsored prayer in which every school day was begun with the prayer:
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.

This was usually followed by readings from the Bible along with the singing of "God Bless America" or "The Star Spangled Banner."

What the courts did not do, however, was forbid students from praying in school. This is what is most commonly misunderstood. So in 1995, Dick Riley, Secretary of Education to President Clinton, along with numerous organizations including the ACLU, the American Jewish Committee, the American Muslim Council, and others, composed a document entitled "Religion In The Public Schools: A Joint Statement Of Current Law" which states:
The Constitution permits much private religious activity in and about the public schools. Unfortunately, this aspect of constitutional law is not as well known as it should be. Some say that the Supreme Court has declared the public schools "religion-free zones" or that the law is so murky that school officials cannot know what is legally permissible. The former claim is simply wrong. And as to the latter, while there are some difficult issues, much has been settled. It is also unfortunately true that public school officials, due to their busy schedules, may not be as fully aware of this body of law as they could be. As a result, in some school districts some of these rights are not being observed.

The organizations whose names appear below span the ideological, religious and political spectrum. They nevertheless share a commitment both to the freedom of religious practice and to the separation of church and state such freedom requires. In that spirit, we offer this statement of consensus on current law as an aid to parents, educators and students.


Student Prayers

  1. Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. Because the Establishment Clause does not apply to purely private speech, students enjoy the right to read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other willing student listeners. In the classroom students have the right to pray quietly except when required to be actively engaged in school activities (e.g., students may not decide to pray just as a teacher calls on them). In informal settings, such as the cafeteria or in the halls, students may pray either audibly or silently, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other speech in these locations. However, the right to engage in voluntary prayer does not include, for example, the right to have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate.

Yes, that's right. They have the right to pray in school. And what about creationism? Well, it turns out they can teach that, too.
Schools may teach about explanations of life on earth, including religious ones (such as "creationism"), in comparative religion or social studies classes. In science class, however, they may present only genuinely scientific critiques of, or evidence for, any explanation of life on earth, but not religious critiques (beliefs unverifiable by scientific methodology). Schools may not refuse to teach evolutionary theory in order to avoid giving offense to religion nor may they circumvent these rules by labeling as science an article of religious faith. Public schools must not teach as scientific fact or theory any religious doctrine, including "creationism," although any genuinely scientific evidence for or against any explanation of life may be taught. Just as they may neither advance nor inhibit any religious doctrine, teachers should not ridicule, for example, a student's religious explanation for life on earth.

So what we're dealing with here is really nothing more than a Christian Conservative canard to cast themselves as opressed and downtrodden. The way it appears to me is that what the Christian right is really concerned about is that they can't make a large demonstration of their faith. They're allowed to pray, but not in the way that they would like. Silent prayer isn't enough for them. However, if they are truly the Christians they claim to be, they should be familiar with this:
5"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

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