Over this past weekend, I came across a petition that has been circulating around Facebook. This petition from causes.com dated December 16, 2012, states the following:
To: Lawmakers on the federal, state, and local levels.
This society allowed a few atheists to dictate to lawmakers that prayer should be taken out of schools, and that there should be a separation of church and state. Once God was taken out of our schools, evil worked its way in.
Believers should sign to let the lawmakers and the so called powers that be know we should be allowed to openly pray, and let God back into our schools. We live in the land of the free, and we should freely be able to allow God to come back in.
First, let me deal with the legal aspect before I wade into why being a Baptist who claims the historic principles of Baptists moves me to speak against this type of idea. What was removed from schools was formal prayer or a formal time for prayer. It was removed because it was coercive to have a government entity require someone to pray or observe a moment of silence. This is unconstitutional for the government to do.
There is something that I wonder if those who wrote this petition realize – it cannot always be a Christian prayer because that would be endorsement of one faith over another. In order for this formal prayer to not constitute an endorsement or preference for one religion or faith over another, this prayer would have to rotate between all the faiths represented in the community and maybe even in the country. That means that the teacher would say a Christian prayer one day, then one from the Muslim faith the next day, and then a Hindu prayer the next, and then a Wiccan incantation the following day and so on until all the faiths possibly present have been given equal time. I think that those who advocate for formal prayer in schools have the presupposition that it will always be a prayer of the Christian faith. It cannot be so or would be in violation of the First Amendment. I wonder how many of those who advocate for formal prayer would be okay with their child being forced by the government to participate in a prayer that is not of their faith?
Also with the legal side, prayer has not been taken out of schools. That is a myth. There is a joke which says, “As long as there are tests in school, there will be prayer in schools!” Just because there isn’t a formal time of prayer doesn’t mean that students are forbidden to pray. At a time where it is not disruptive to the educational process (i.e. when the student has free time to do whatever he/she desires), the student still has the right to pray. Another student may choose to listen to music on her ipod as she reads a novel. Another student may choose to spend the time in quiet meditation and prayer. Both students are allowed to do his/her specific activity as long as it is not disruptive to the room. All that has been removed is the formal time where students are required to participate in a religious or faith-based activity, and that a government entity cannot not do.
Second, from Baptist historic principles and beliefs, I do not want the government in the business of forcing or coercing students who must be in the classroom to participate in a religious exercise. In the colonial period of this country, Baptists were a minority. Baptists advocated for no interference from the government in religious affairs. Baptists, as minorities, had to fight for the right to not have to pay religious taxes to the church of the state which was the Congregationalist Church. Baptists were oppressed and persecuted by other Christians because of these principles. If you read the writings of Baptist preachers of the time, such as Isaac Watts and John Leland, you will see these principles in action. John Leland was instrumental in getting the First Amendment added to the Bill of Rights as written, and yes, behind it is the idea of the separation of church and state, even though those words do not specifically appear there.
Baptists as minorities were forced to do things, such as paying taxes to the accepted church, even though they objected to it. Because of this, Baptists were champions of the rights of the minority, seeking to protect those rights from the majority who would attempt to take away those rights. Why Baptists of today would advocate for religious minorities of today to be forced to participate in a religious exercise which goes against their faith I have no idea. When Baptists do that, they forget their roots and what it means to be Baptist and that, frankly, saddens me.
I want the government to stay out of the religious realm all together. Churches, houses of worship, communities of faith and the home are where faith should be taught and religious/faith activities be required, not in government-run institutions. If government can require a citizen to participate in a religious exercise of their making or choosing, it is not too far to go to begin to tell houses of worship how they can or cannot worship. And to me, that is anathema (curse).
This petition purports that God has left our schools. If that is the case, then God has violated one of his promises, for Jesus promised that he would always be with us, even unto the ends of the earth. God has not left our schools, for when there are present in our school buildings those who claim the name of Jesus, there he is also.
Formal prayer must not be viewed as some sort of magical formula by which evil will not visit our schools. If that were true, how do violent acts happen in sanctuaries where formal prayer happens all the time? Violent acts occurred in schools before the Supreme Court decision in the 1960’s that took formal prayer out of schools. It is my position that having the view that having formal prayer in school will protect the school is equating this act as a magical incantation or some sort of talisman. And that is a perverted view of prayer.
As a Baptist, I believe in soul freedom which means every person has the right, as an individual, to approach and stand before God as he/she sees fit. Because of that, there is no place for a government entity to require or coerce someone to approach or interact with God in a way that goes against his/her own view. This means no formal prayer or requirement to observe a moment of silence.
I understand that there are certain faith groups who advocate for formal prayer in schools, but it truly saddens me when I hear of those within the Baptist family join them for, when they do so, they truly have forgotten what it truly means to be Baptist.