Over the past week I’ve heard several mentions of the breakout of prayer by students at a football game in Marianna, Florida. The local TV station reported “Just before Friday night’s football game at Marianna High School, students, parents, and even the players went through with reciting the Lord’s Prayer.” Further, a student is reported as saying “It just shows that with God anything’s possible, nothing can stop us.” This is all in response to the fact that the local school board had decided that an organized prayer was problematic, something that has been repeatedly upheld by the courts.
Here is what I find odd about all this. People keep acting as if the students and parents taking it upon themselves to pray is some kind of triumph over some movement to prevent that kind of thing from happening. But nothing could be further from the truth. No one has ever suggested that private individuals are not allowed to pray before football games, at graduations, or anything else. That has never been the issue at hand. What has been at issue is the idea of prayers organized by public school officials, and this is for a very simple reason. It is both illegal and inappropriate for the government to endorse any particular religion. And, of course, that’s what almost all parents, including those in Marianna, Florida, want, even if they are not aware of that fact. I promise, the last thing any these people who recited the Lord’s Prayer want is for some school official to stand up and lead their children in a prayer a Hindu deity. They would absolutely freak out. But, of course, that’s the same kind of respect Hindus want as well. They don’t want someone in power telling their kids to what god it is appropriate to pray. And I doubt Protestants want a Catholic official leading students in a prayer to the Virgin Mary, and I can’t help but think that most Southern Baptists would be incredibly uncomfortable if the team coach broke out in Tongues before the big game. I can come up with these examples all day long. The only prayers people want their kids praying are prayers to their own god in their own way. And that’s exactly the reason for not having public school officials lead the children in their charge in prayers in general.
But none of that has anything to do with individuals themselves saying prayers to whatever they want. On the contrary, that right has been affirmed repeatedly by the courts and defended by that oft-maligned “liberal” group, the ACLU, the same group the report above says claims “it’s against the law for school administrators and teachers to either encourage or discourage [prayer].” And that is exactly what they say, that school officials cannot encourage or discourage school prayer, but it is that last part that people so often seem to neglect. There is this strange conviction held by many Christians that they are somehow persecuted, that some secret, nefarious, liberty-hating liberal (funny as that is) cabal within the government is desperate to prevent Christians from worshipping as they wish. Their evidence of this is that others’ liberties are being protected, namely the liberty to not be coerced into worshipping any particular god at all. But that is evidence of no such thing, and I am constantly puzzled and dumbfounded as to how anyone who is in control of their mental faculties could ever draw such a conclusion.
A group of Christians praying in public is no victory over anything. No one is attempting to prevent Christians from practicing their religion. The only thing at issue has been whether government officials should endorse a particular religion, and this is exemplified here by the idea of teachers leading children, who are told to do as their teachers say, in prayers to entities that may or may not be approved by the children’s parents. That’s it. Pray in public all you want. But when you brag that you’ve somehow overcome prejudice and attempts to revoke your rights because you prayed to Jehovah, you just look foolish and show your own radical misunderstanding of how your own rights are being protected.