Column: Prayer in schools
Published Tuesday, September 11, 2012
“As long as there are tests there will be prayer in schools.”
When I was in third or fourth grade, like many kids, I had a weekly spelling test. I’ve learned to be pretty good with spelling, and my mom would challenge me with new and tough words to help me expand my verbal horizons.
One such word was “Antidisestablishmentarianism.”
I got it right and was so proud of myself. It’s got 28 letters, after all. Then, of course, I had to find out what it meant. Usually I’d have to look the word up in a dictionary, but mom took pity on her 9-year-old kid and told me it meant opposition to doing away with a state church.
That’s the crux of a part of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
One part of the First Amendment is that there will not be a state or “established” church in the United States.
Before, during and immediately after the American Revolution, the Anglican or Episcopal Church was the state church in many of the colonies, the United States and in Great Britain.
South Carolina’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention — Pierce Butler, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Rutledge — were among the founding fathers of our government. They also played key roles in adopting the Bill of Rights.
Now, we have a lot of people upset about comments made by David Duff last week. He’s an attorney for the Georgetown County School District, and he said the School Board should stop praying out loud at its meetings, and there should be no more school-initiated or school-sponsored prayer at meetings, athletic events and the like.
Reporter Scott Harper will have an update on that story in Friday’s paper.
But, while it may be that the School Board will no longer have public prayer, it’s up to each of us to worship God in our own way.
As far as religious freedom, it really doesn’t matter whether you’re Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, an atheist or …
The Constitution protects our right to worship God as we please — or to choose not to worship a supreme being if that’s our preference.
And it’s the choice of each of us to call the creator God, Father, Jesus, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, the Great Spirit …
That same First Amendment also guarantees us the right to speak our minds, to write about issues, to get together with others and to tell the government when it’s made a mistake and make sure it’s corrected. That’s the “redress of grievances” part.
“We the People” established the Constitution.
We the people need to make sure that we pray and teach our kids how to pray, and that no one tells us we have to follow a state-sponsored set of beliefs.
All of that does not mean we can’t pray ourselves.
We have the choice and the obligation to our kids and grandkids to ensure they have a good moral upbringing.
If kids want to pray in school, they have the right to do so. They do not have the right to be disruptive.
Our jobs as parents and adults is to ensure we stand up for ourselves, for our rights and to protect the rights of others.
Regardless of religious affiliation, I have the right to believe what I will, but I do not have the right to tell you what to believe.
If each of us does our jobs, and holds elected officials accountable, we can make sure that prayer is OK, that our freedoms are protected, and that those who fail in their responsibilities are removed from office.
We’ve gotten many comments on our Web site and our Facebook page about Duff’s advice and School Board chairman Jim Dumm’s words saying there will be no more prayer.
Some people say the School Board should not give in to pressure and should fight a ban on prayer in school.
My gut reaction is to agree with that idea.
But on reflection, while that might be a good way to confront the issue, bringing up our kids right at home, at church and in society in general is really more important than whether a teacher or a preacher can lead a prayer in school.
I believe with all my heart that prayer is good for the soul and good for us as a nation, but we as a community need to give reasoned thought to legal challenges that tie up personnel and resources.
Sometimes, a quiet example speaks to the heart more loudly than clashing gongs and cymbals.
Tommy Howard is editor of the Georgetown Times.