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To the editor:
I am writing in regards to the matter of the separation of church and state, and how it has recently affected our community, namely our school system.
I do not profess to be a history, constitutional or theology scholar (or any other type of scholar for that matter) but feel compelled, indeed obligated, to speak out.
I think there is a general misconception of the purpose, and benefit of separation of church and state, especially by those who feel they are unfairly restricted from performing certain religious acts in certain circumstances. The original pilgrims came to this country seeking religious freedom; freedom to practice their religion without fear of reprisal or persecution.
Their religious beliefs and practices differed from that of the government-supported religion of the time. The majority were Christians; they just had differences of opinions about certain details, which apparently warranted the punishment of ostracization, imprisonment, confiscation of property, torture and death.
The learned and wise men who constructed the Constitution of our new republic understood the threat that a government-imposed and government-sanctioned religion could have on the members of the populace who held divergent beliefs.
Unfortunately today, some misinterpret what is actually a protection as an infringement on their ability to practice their religion.
We have the unfortunate habit of assuming that everyone shares our belief system, and if they don’t, they should.
So to a Christian, who could possibly object to a coach-led school team prayer (in Jesus’s name)? I respectfully suggest that Jews, Muslins and atheists (to name just the obvious) may object. Certainly they are not being “forced” to participate, but school age children are so vulnerable to peer pressure, bullying and ostracization, that it would be a rare child who would willingly stand out of the group. He or she would certainly at least pretend to participate. And if we are going to allow one “brand” of prayer, then we must be willing to allow all “brands” of prayer.
That is why it is so wonderful that our private (as opposed to government) sector has the freedom to establish churches and practice any way in which they please (well, almost; there are still some religious sects in this country who feel their ability to practice is restricted by the government because they are prohibited from engaging in such things as polygamy or animal sacrifice).
I in no way suggest that I wish to suppress any individual’s ability to practice their beliefs as they see fit, so please, pray away.
Pray all day, every day, free from persecution (which is not synonymous with ridicule). Pray before, during and after the football game. Pray out loud if you wish.
I think the gathering to which Steve Carmichael referred to in his letter is one example of a positive, appropriate way for like-minded individuals to commune, and again, I wholly support that right. Just as I would have to support the right of any other group whose beliefs I did not share.
But please stop characterizing this issue as “not being allowed to pray;” that is obtuse and disingenuous. There are, however, certain situations in which it would be disruptive and not appropriate to pray out loud, such as during a staff meeting or while a teacher is teaching a class.
Although I can’t recall hearing anyone pray out loud in the grocery store, while getting my nails done, or while waiting in line to buy a movie ticket, they would be well within their legal rights to do so. I firmly support that right (my being “offended” or not has no bearing on the matter). Just as any school child may pray out loud or talk to any other student (when talking is permissible, such as at recess or lunch) about their religious beliefs.
What is not permissible is for our government (and as a division of government, our school system) and its representatives (teachers and coaches) to establish a religion, and as adults in positions of leadership for our children, that is what teachers and coaches as representatives of our government would be doing by leading a prayer during school functions.
The coaches may continue to pray; I really don’t see how anyone could stop anyone else from doing so. They just may not organize or encourage the students to do so.
Surely God can hear a silent prayer just as well as one spoken out loud. And surely the students have other, more fitting venues in which to learn about and share their faith. And if it is your religious obligation to spread the word and gain converts for the glory of God (and because you care deeply what happens to everyone when they die), then I suggest that purpose might actually be better served by its proponents acting as examples.
Let your actions speak for you; let them be your prayer in action. Lead a life pleasing to God by devotion to your family (abstain from premarital sex, infidelity and divorce), be charitable in spirit (let God do the judging) as well as actions (serve others, have more care for the least of us than you do for yourself and obtaining material possessions); we all know areas in which our actions are not congruent with our morals.
In other words, direct your focus on improving yourself, not others.
This country’s founders and crafters of its Constitution intended for its protections to be extended to everyone, not just those who believed as they believed. That is why, in a civilized society, the laws are (ideally) designed for the most good, for the most people, and there must be some limitations.
By attempting to subvert that principle, we would jeopardize the very thing we seek to protect.