95 Theses Friday #2: The subtle differences between classroom and closet

One of the main issues that the Evangelicals first rallied around when we began to accumulate political power during the second half of the last century was prayer in schools.  The backlash from Abington V. Shempp was mighty, and mightily ugly.  And so, motivated by the fear that Madalyn Murray O’Hair was hiding under our beds, we mobilized.

45 years later, we’re still circulating emails and such about getting prayer back into our schools.  Apparently, we cannot abide a state of affairs in which all students in our public schools are not made to bow their heads for a prayer to the Christian God each morning.

I’m not quite clear on why this is.

I’ve been in public schools, as student and as substitute teacher.  In both roles, I freely prayed many times, and the Athiesm Police failed to haul me away.  You wouldn’t think it possible, to read some of the emails that have washed up in my inbox, which seem to imply that the godless liberal humanists lurk behind every corner and under every bush, sniffing out piety to destroy.  Near as I can tell, many of these emails are composed originally by people of an age that puts them long years away from acquaintance with schools, so that might explain why the school system they write about is one that mostly exists in their imaginations.  It doesnot explain why they have to write about these imaginary schoolsat all.

And this is the part that troubles me.  This was one of the first hills the Evangelical right chose to fight and die on.  In so doing, we were essentially claiming dominance by right over America’s educational system.  Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, athiests, Sikhs and Hindus, apparently, being subservient.  Although in theory non-Christians are American citizens the same as Christians, and pay the same taxes, it should be our prayers that their children must join in, in the schools their taxes pay for.

From a strictly legal standpoint, this is a claim we could not rightfully make.  But that’s not what I’m concerned with.

When has subjecting people to religion ever been a good thing?  What benefits have come to the Faith through forcing those outside it to observe its rituals?  What benefits come to them?

Are there insufficient opportunities in our churches and in our homes, that our children must be led in public prayer in their schools as well?

Why do we demand the right to have everyone silently bow their heads while we noisily talk to God?

Matthew 6

1Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

3But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

4That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

5And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

We must think, long and hard, about what we really want, and why we want it.  Do we want our kids to be able to pray in school?  Because they can.  Or do we want to pray publicly, asserting our dominance of our faith, our scriptures, our rituals, over all others in the public square?

Why are we fighting for the right to put on our masks and platform shoes and pray on the street corners?

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