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January/February 2010

Discover more articles from this issue.

The Question of the Common Good

Explaining Liberty: Part Three in a Series

Labor Unions and Workers’ Rites

Organized labor has lately been working to transform its political muscle into organizing muscle through something creatively captioned “the Employee...

Liberty for All

7th Annual Religious Liberty Dinner

The Conscience

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. . . .  “The...

The Shaming of Religion

Religion and religious expression have been objects of censorship in the public schools for quite some time. However, the intolerance of anything related to religion has taken a turn for the absurd in recent years.

A Tale of Two Unions

A Pastor's Wife on the Stand for Religious Exemption

Magazine Archive »

Published in the January/February 2010 Magazine
by Hannah Goldstein

Thousands, if not millions, of American Christians have complained that their religious freedoms have been taken away because of court rulings restricting public school prayer. Yet many people believe that when prayer is mandatory in a nonprivate educational setting, it violates the religious freedom of others.

Imagine a Buddhist, a Jew, an atheist, and a Hindu attending a public school that enforces morning prayer with a Christian flavor. In actuality, these young people are being required to participate in something that goes against their beliefs. Is not this a violation of their religious freedom? Would not, then, the safest option be to keep religion from being forced upon people by having all religious beliefs, including prayer, reserved for one’s own mind, conscience, home life, church life, or even private school routine—instead of in a public school setting, where people are forced to attend by law?

I am an 18-year-old Christian. I have made the personal decision to live my life as a believer in Jesus. As a follower of Christ, I believe that God has called me to witness to others, as well as preach His message to the world. However, nowhere in the Bible does God state that religious tradition must be enforced upon people, even in subtle ways. Faith should be a personal choice—not an insincere obligation. If someone has a love for God, then not participating in a public and mandatory morning prayer will not hinder their spiritual growth.

If a person isn’t a believer in Christ but in Allah, the pressure of partaking in a morning prayer even in a subtle context of Jesus Christ would certainly not make that person desire Christianity; it most likely, instead, would turn them away. If Christians are so adamant about prayer in schools, shouldn’t they be equally so about witnessing to individuals on a personal level, rather than by shoving obligatory practices down their throats? If Christians are truly strong in their faith and beliefs, as well as their love for God, they shouldn’t feel as though their growth in Christianity is “dwindling” simply because they aren’t given opportunity to listen to someone recite a written prayer.

Why do so many Christians feel the need to try to enact laws that protect their own religious comfort zone? These individuals argue that they should be free to practice their personal religious beliefs in public places, but they seem to have forgotten that this freedom has already been given. There are no laws against having a personal prayer with another classmate, praying before lunch, or even witnessing to other students as long as it doesn’t turn into harassment. However, because there is no mandatory school prayer, some people see it as “discrimination against Christian belief.” Some have even gone so far as to call it “persecution.”

Persecution? These people ought to spend a little time in parts of the world where Christians are killed for their faith. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so quick to throw the word “persecution” around. 

America was founded on the principle that all people can have the freedom to practice their religious beliefs—or not practice any beliefs at all—without being imposed or forced upon by larger and more politically powerful religions.

Some misguided Christians spout nonsense about “majority rules.” This basically means that if the majority of students at a particular school are Christian, then the minority of other religious or nonreligious students, who don’t hold the same beliefs, should be forced to participate in that tradition. That’s hardly religious freedom!

If a majority of students were Muslims in a school, I doubt the same Christians crying out now about “majority rule” would be uttering that same cry then. Also, what if the teacher of a certain class is required to have a daily morning prayer, yet she is a Wiccan? What’s to stop her from reciting a pagan chant or prayer? If Christians insist on having publicly mandated prayer, they must be ready for the believers of other doctrines and faiths to do their own thing as well.

The idea that prayer in school is outlawed is ridiculous. Individual, personal prayer never has been proscribed by law. The courts have declared that only government-fostered prayers are unconstitutional—that is, prayers that are required and scheduled by school officials who have the power of the state behind them. I think Ulysses S. Grant said it best: “Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.”

Recently I was reading an article online. It said: “The removal of prayer from our schools was a violation of the third commandment, which commands us ‘not to take the name of the Lord in vain.’ By the judicial act of forbidding invocation, the Court audaciously elevated a secularized system of education beyond the authority, reach, and blessing of God Himself. Worse than taking the Lord’s sacred name in vain is treating it with contempt, denying its rightful place and stripping it from public use and even from the lips of children. Jesus’ own expressed desire ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them’ was also violated by these judges, many of whom were raised in Christian homes.”

Oh, yes! By not forcing people to participate in a prayer to a God they don’t believe in, the government is taking Christ’s name “in vain.” Get real!

To pray is to be in communion with Christ, and if one doesn’t even believe in Christ, the entire point of prayer is destroyed. The Bible says,“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them.” It doesn’t say, “Require that the little children come unto Me, even against their will, and make it a mandatory act that they observe Me once a day, whether they believe in Me or not.”

The bottom line is this: children are required by law to attend school. Thus the school system has absolutely no right to indoctrinate kids into any religious belief whatsoever.

Ironically enough, in the early days of this country, Christians were the ones most in favor of the idea of “separation of church and state.” Why? Because they had suffered so much persecution in the name of religion by other “Christians” who had the political power to oppress those who didn’t believe in the same doctrines as the majority. So, these minority Christians wanted to live in a country where they were free to practice whatever doctrines they so desired—and not in a country where a certain dogma was enforced upon them. And they found that country, and helped create it too. It’s called the United States of America.

“Nothing,” wrote John Adams, “is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.” 

And that goes not just for national government, but for state and county governments as well. Hence, despite all the protestations and noises about “persecution” and the abolition of faith in America, our country’s continued practice of not allowing the public schools to use their power to coerce, in any way, no matter how subtle, religious practice reflects the principles of religious freedom that have made this country great.

Hannah Goldstein writes from Sykesville, Maryland.

 Hannah felt compelled to speak to the double standard of religious expression in schools. After she submitted this article, I got a call from a very impressed father, who realizes that his daughter did listen to Dad and does “get it.” The dad, as some of our readers may have guessed, is Clifford Goldstein, editor of Liberty for several years before he let me take over!—Lincoln E. Steed, Editor.

Author: Hannah Goldstein

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