DWISE1's Letters to the Editor:

The nation's better off without school-prayer laws

When I wrote the following letter to the local newspaper, school prayer was a very hot topic which had generated an on-going battle on the editorial page and that battle showed no sign of ever stopping.

This letter killed that battle. After this letter was printed, there was not another mention of school prayer in any letter to the editor until two years had passed. While other factors could have caused the cease-fire (e.g., an arbitrary editor blocking all subsequent letters on the subject), I would like to think that it was my brilliant, impeccable logic <grin> and the plain and obvious truth that had made them realize the error of their ways.

Orange County Register
1985 August 02

The nation's better off without school-prayer laws

It is ironic that people like the Rev. Randy Adler ("Fighting back against liberals," July 11 letter) should be fighting so hard to obtain something they have always had. He was responding to the Rev. Robert Tanksley's June 16 letter, "Religion can do quite well without government help."

Tanksley had asked, " .. why mandate prayer only in the schools? Why not in theaters and restaurants?" Adler said, "The reason is that only in public schools is prayer forbidden. Prayer is already permitted in theaters and restaurants." Adler's statement is wrong for two important reasons.
1.) Prayer is not forbidden in the public schools. Whereas organized, vocal prayer in the classroom has been ruled unconstitutional, students have always had the right to silent prayer.
2.) Public schools differ greatly from theaters and restaurants in that the public schools are run by the government. The owner of a theater or restaurant may advocate whatever religion he wishes, but the government is restricted from doing so by the First Amendment. The teaching of religious beliefs and practices is the duty of the parents and the churches, not the government.

So why should so much effort go into lobbying for unnecessary laws for silent prayer? Since the experiences of other states show that once a silent- prayer law is passed, it sets the precedent for a vocal-prayer law which soon follows, we should look at the effects of a vocal-prayer law.

The enactment of a vocal-prayer law means that the government must compose and/or endorse a particular prayer. In a monolithic society, this would be no problem, but in our pluralistic society, serious problems arise.

Less than 57 percent of our population is Christian, so no religion enoys a clear majority. We have the Jewish faith, Muslims, Buddhists, Krishnas and even Rajneesh followers. By choosing a particular religion's prayer, the government would be sponsoring that religion.

A generalized prayer that doesn't offend any particular faith would be so watered-down and meaningless that the whole exercise becomes ludicrous.

What effect would school-prayer laws have on children? They would benefit little and could be harmed.

A child learns most of its moral, religious and social values between the ages of 3 and 10. The single most powerful force in shaping the child's values is the family.

Since moral values are independent of religious values, and are largely learned before the child enters school, the recital of prayer would have little, if any, effect on the child's moral values.

Adler claims that the public schools are now being used to strip our children of faith and morals, yet if government were to promote a particular religion in the public then the effect would be to strip the children of other religions of their faith.

Even if the prayer were non-sectarian Christian, then the 43 percent of non-Christian students would have another religion forced on them.

Like Adler, I am concerned with the preservation of traditional values. We have traditionally been a pluralistic society ruled by a secular government. In Washington's time, we were not a Christian nation. With the Constitution intact and with less than 57 percent of our population being Christian, we are still not a Christian nation.

Despite the acts of Congress in l954 and l956 to change our national motto from "E Pluribus Unum" ("Out of many parts, one") to "In God we trust" and to insert the words "under God" into our Pledge of Allegiance, we must continue to not be a Christian nation

Only by avoiding the state sponsorship of a particular religion can we guarantee everyone's right to freedom of religion.

School-prayer laws are unnecessary and highly undesirable. Our children already enjoy the right to pray silently, of their own volition, and should continue to do so without the interference of Adler's conservative clergy.

David C. Wise

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First uploaded on 2001 November 01.
Updated on 2011 August 18.