God And Country: Prayers Allowed

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Freedom, faith and nation -- Part V

In 1943, during the very depths of World War II, at a time when patriotism was foremost in the eyes of every American, the Supreme Court heard West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In that case, Jehovah's Witnesses who refused to salute the American flag were expelled from school. The Jehovah's Witnesses believed, quite literally, in Exodus, Chapter 20, verses 4 and 5, which reads, "Thou shalt not make to thee any graven image" They believed that the flag is an "image," therefore, they refused to salute it.

The state of West Virginia relied upon an earlier case heard by the Supreme Court in 1940, Minersville School District v. Gobitis, in which the court upheld a compulsory flag salute. So, right in the middle of a terrible war, when patriotism was No. 1 in the minds of the people, what did our Supreme Court do? It reversed its earlier decision, admitted its error, and found in favor of an unpopular sect that refused to show its loyalty to the country in a way that most people were proud to do.

Here is the unanimous decision of the court: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not occur to us now."

Those words should make you proud to be an American!

What about the "separation of church and state" business, something that is always laid at the feet of the Supreme Court? Well, read their own words on the subject:

Zorach v. Clausen, 1952: "The First Amendment does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concert or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the state and religion would be alien to each other -- hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly. Churches could not be required to pay even property taxes. Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups. Policemen who helped parishioners into their places of worship would violate the Constitution. Prayers in our executive halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamations making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; [the words] ‘so help me God' in our courtroom oaths -- these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, and our ceremonies would be flouting the First Amendment. A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which this Court opens each session: God save the United States and this Honorable Court."

That makes it plain enough, doesn't it? And in another decision, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943, they tell us something else that is very important. They say, "The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to ... freedom of worship ... and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote: they depend on the outcome of no elections."

Isn't that the way you want it? Do you want politicians -- or anyone else -- to be permitted to meddle with your faith?

And now, at last, let's take another look at school prayer.

First of all, prayer comes from within. It is a conduit between an individual human being and the Almighty. God does not require that our prayers be spoken aloud. He can hear us whichever way we choose to speak to Him. It would be nice, of course, if prayers could be spoken out loud in school, but even the most faithful among us can immediately see that if that were to happen we would get ourselves all tangled up in questions over which prayer should be said, whose book it should come from, how it should be said, and so on. The question would also arise whether the students did or did not have to participate, what they would do if they didn't want to participate, and on and on without end.

So, the courts, knowing this, have told us how to have school prayer.

They have?

Sure they have! Our courts are not anti-religious; they just simply won't let the government at any level tell us what we have to do where prayer is concerned. All the way back in 1976, a district court in Gaines v. Anderson, 421 F Supp. 337 (D. Mass. 1976), ruled that a period of silence for prayer or meditation at the opening of the school day does not in any way violate the First Amendment. The court stated that if a statute permits prayer or meditation it is not unconstitutional.

So if you want prayers in your school, set aside time in the morning for them. Those who want to pray will pray. Those who don't want to, won't. It will be, as it should be, an individual choice, and -- if I remember correctly -- I believe we were granted individual choice.

What could be simpler? The courts have told us how to do it. What are you waiting for?

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