President Ronald Reagan broached the issue of prayer in public schools when he addressed the nation in February of 1984. He reminded American citizens that prayer in public schools was practiced freely for the first 200 years of our history without any adverse affects. Reagan was flummoxed by the fact that the first amendment of the Constitution permits the “Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen to march on public property (and) advocate the extermination of people of the Jewish faith and the subjugation of blacks, while the same amendment forbids our children from saying a prayer in school.”
So, what dangerous prayer wasstruck down by the Supreme Court? I’m sure you might be shocked to know that kindergarten children in this country used to recite this prayer before the Supremes rushed in to protect them:
“We thank you for the flowers so sweet,
We thank you for the food we eat.
We thank you for the birds that sing.
We thank you, God, For everything.”
Reagan went on to say, “The first amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people from religion; that amendment was written to protect religion form government tyranny.” He referenced God in the Mayflower Compact, in the Declaration of Independence, in the Pledge of Allegiance and The National Anthem. The dollar bills we carry in our wallets have the words “In God We Trust” inscribed on them. If God is so freely symbolized in all of these, why is he considered so dangerous in public schools?
No one in their right mind could possibly believe that this prayer is detrimental to the minds and lives of our youth. It is disturbing to know that the highest court of the land can take the Constitution and twist it to mean whatever they desire for it to mean. It is obvious that the decision to take Bible reading and prayer out of public schools is not an attempt to guarantee freedom of religion. It is an attempt to promote one religion over another. Arguing as the only dissenter in Abington v. Schempp, (the court decided 8-1 to eliminate Bible reading from public schools) Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, “a refusal to permit” religious exercises in the schools “is seen not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism.” (1)
The fact is that the majority of Americans, perhaps as high as 65%, support the idea of allowing prayer in public schools. Democracies are founded on the idea that the greater good of the body of citizens must be protected. Americans are very alarmed that activist judges have twisted the constitution in ways to favor minority opinions over those of the majority. The majority of Americans oppose legalized abortion. The majority of Americans oppose redefining marriage to mean anything other than the union of one man and one woman. It seems the majority no longer have a voice in their own government.
What can proponents of prayer in public schools do? They can withdraw their children from public schools and home school them or send them to private schools. Homeschooling in America has increasedover 75% in the last decade. Most Christian parents who advocate homeschooling take to heart the verses in Deuteronomy 6:6-7. “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” They embrace the teaching that it is the primary responsibility of parents to teach religious values to their children and to educate them.
Those in favor of prayer in public schools could support a law that allows all teachers to begin the day with prayer but not all teachers are Christians but many teachers would pray to whatever god they choose. They might pray to Allah or Buddha or even Oprah Winfrey. Though there are many loyal Christian educators laboring away in the public school systems, they are hampered by what they can and cannot say about God. Modern education in the United States is going to assume a denial of God or they are going to take the polytheistic (belief in many gods), politically correct approach which says that there are many gods and they all deserve equal respect in our society. Modern education reveals a type of schizophrenia, a tension between atheism and polytheism, but never a promotion of monotheism, (the belief in one God).
In many areas of the country students are given a moment of silence. It is assumed that during this time they may pray silently. The fact is, government can never take away a privilege that God grants to his children. For many, this is all a non-issue. Our children can pray anytime, anywhere they choose. God doesn’t designate a certain place or a certain method but he does command that we “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thes.5:17)
When our children are being taught knowledge their education is limited and inadequate if they are not being taught the truth about Christ. The Apostle Paul warned the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Education is an expression of what we believe and it is incomplete and inadequate if it doesn’t include the truth of Christ. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom and knowledge is the fear of God.” If we don’t expose our children to the teaching of the truth of Christ then we are cheating them because Christ cannot be separated from true education. We are disobedient if we replace the truth of God with an impotent belief in secularism.
Instead of focusing so much on what the government and the courts are not doing, perhaps we should focus more on what we should be doing. It is not the government’s responsibility to teach our children about God and to educate them in the truth of God’s word. That is very clearly the responsibility of Christian parents. We should teach our children to “pray without ceasing”. The prophet Daniel prayed in many places he wasn’t supposed to. He prayed several times a day with the windows wide open. He was rewarded by being thrown into the Lion’s Den. But there, God miraculously revealed himself to Daniel and delivered him from evil. As Christians, we need to pray often in places we are not supposed to with the windows open. Some of us will lose our jobs, some will be ridiculed and cast into the Lion’s Den but God, “who sees what is done in secret, will reward you openly”.(Matthew 6:4)
1. William T. Cavanaugh, “ The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict”, p. 189
Kevin Probst - Teaches History, Government and Apologetics at the high school level in Columbus Georgia.