This kind of controversy always brings out those well-meaning people who believe that Religion is a Good Thing...and therefore, it should be Up In Our Collective Grille at Every Fucking Opportunity. Ah, friends...not so. Not so.
She Who Must Be Obeyed and I received, a few months back, a petition that urged everyone to back Presidential efforts to reinstate school prayer. Here follows my answer:
An Open Letter to the Nice Folks Who Want George W. Bush To Reinstate Prayer In School:Well, we’ll see what happens. And if the decision doesn’t sit right with the nascent theocrats at BushCo, you’d better believe they’ll keep testing it again and again until the mountainous Wall o’ Separation is worn away to gravel.
Thank you for the e-mail you had sent She Who Must Be Obeyed and me concerning the petition requesting that President Bush lift the prohibition of prayer in schools. This is an issue that resonates very deeply with us. Like a lot of things in this life, the petition, at first blush, sounds like a good idea. It’s like motherhood and apple pie. After all, who thinks it’s a bad thing for children to be able to pray? (Besides atheists, I mean.) Well, things are not quite so simple.
First of all, this is not something President Bush can decide by decree or executive order. Organized prayer in schools has been viewed by the Supreme Court as an unacceptable breach of the barrier between church and state. Unless there is a dramatic change in the political composition of the Court, this prohibition will not go away any time soon. President Bush will certainly do everything he can to put more conservative justices on the Court as the incumbents retire, but even conservative Supreme Court judges have a problem with organized prayer in schools.
I’m writing this, not as an atheist, but as a Jew who attends organized prayer services almost every single day. And what I will tell you is, if we were to have organized prayer in schools, who is going to decide what prayers the children say? I certainly do not want some government official, school official, or teacher telling me or my kids what prayer to say, when to say it, or to whom. And I’ll bet you don’t, either. How you talk to God is just about the most personal decision you can make. Would these be Presbyterian prayers? From the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, maybe? Catholic? What about Muslim or Hindu? How about Jewish? Baptist? Who decides?
A “one size fits all” prayer that will not offend anyone simply doesn’t exist. If it did, it would be meaningless to anyone who said it, because it would be cleansed of any real content.
Personally, I think our children have better things to do than stand up and mouth empty platitudes. That’s what Congress is for.
Once we let religion into our government, government will, sure as the sun rises each day, get into our religion...and that is a very bad idea. The reason the United States is a great nation, under God, is that the United States does not try to tell us who that God is or how to serve Him. That is a job for our religious institutions.
It may interest you to know that children have never been prohibited from praying in school or “mentioning God.” Individual prayer? Fine! Organized prayer in private schools? No problem! What is unacceptable is organized prayer in public, taxpayer-financed schools. If people want their children to pray in school in any kind of organized way, they can - and should - send them to parochial school.
I hope you will accept the above reasoning and reconsider your support for this petition. It’s an idea that sounds good on the surface - a return to some of our old-fashioned national values is always very attractive when the social fabric of the nation seems so...sleazy. But this particular idea brings with it some serious pitfalls. I can think of no better example than the text of the petition itself, which incorporates a passage from the Gospel of Mark. It’s holy scripture...but not to everyone.