The Separation of Church and State
More than 225 years ago, the founders of this country, in their infinite wisdom, created a bill of rights that, among other things, included the right to worship freely without fear of persecution or government sanction. Today, that basic right is under constant threat from groups who are using that right in an attempt to take that same right from others. The religious radicals who are trying to reinstate school prayer are a prime example.
I am not against prayer. I am against forcing someone to pray when they don't want to or in a presecibed manner as dictated by anything but their own conscience. There is no law existing in this country that prohibits a child from praying in school. Any child who feels the need or desire to pray in school is free to do so at any time provided such praying does not disrupt class time. But for the school to set aside a time to pray is in violation of each child's right to worship freely. Because the public schools are supported with tax dollars, they must maintain a distinct separation from religious matters, no matter how prevalent the tradition or how overwhelming the majority.
Several years ago, the high school I graduated from became involved in a court case involving a benediction before the graduation ceremony. Attendance at this ceremony is mandatory in order to receive one's diploma. The parents of a student who did not want to say or hear the prayer sought, and were granted, an injunction prohibiting the school from using a benediction at the beginning of the ceremony. The school agreed to abide by the injunction. When the valedictorian began her speech, she asked everyone to stand and join her in saying the "Our Father". She was overwhelmingly supported and given a standing ovation by the crowd....But would she have received such positive feedback had she risen and asked the crowd to join her in a prayer to Odin or Allah or even Satan? I think not. She was cheered because she happened to pray to the same God and in the same manner as the majority of those present.
But put yourself in the shoes of the student who had filed for the injunction. All they had to do was stand there silently, you may say. That is true. But in standing with the crowd, some more fundamental groups might say they were honoring another God. Would most Christians attend a Muslim function where they had to follow the lead of the crowd and bow in the direction of Mecca? They would resent being asked to do so, yet those same people have no problem in expecting those of a differing belief system to follow the crowd when a Christian prayer is said. This is hypocritical and presents an air of religious superiority, which if endorsed by the school, is tantamount to establishment of a religion. Yes, the girl had every right to say her prayer in public and to ask others to participate. But she showed complete lack of respect for those whose beliefs differed from hers and who might actually be offended by the prayer that was offered. For someone who professes to follow the teachings of Jesus, who lived according to the Golden Rule, that seems a bit out of line.
Another problem that arises when the state interferes in religious matters is what constitutes a religion. While I have a very strong spirituality and a very personal relationship with the Divine Creator, I do NOT ascribe to any established religion. There is an effort by the radical right to allow government tax dollars to support religious schools. How will one determine what constitutes a religious school? Will a school that teaches Satanic worship be considered a religion? Will parents who homeschool their children be allowed to file for support based on their personal religious beliefs? While most people will not admit that religions that worship the dark forces are valid, under the Constitution of the United States, they have the same rights as those who practice traditional Judeo/Christain beliefs.
There are those who argue that the schools are already teaching a religion called evolution. Many mistakenly believe that evolution teaches that man descended from ape. The truth of the matter is that evolution says that at some point in the far distant past, man and ape had a common ancestor. Picture it this way. Evolution says that when Jane had twins, one twin was blond haired and green eyed, the other was brown haired and brown eyed. Many generations later, there might be no real family resemblance and others might find it hard to believe that this group of brown haired, brown eyed individuals is related to that group of blond haired green eyed individuals because they look so vastly different.
There is scientific proof of evolution in general if not for the actual theory of man and ape having a common ancestor. Aside from the DNA evidence, we have been able to actually watch evolution at work on things that have very short life-spans, like viruses or bacteria. HIV is a prime example: the virus mutates and evolved in response to the drugs that are being used to try to treat it and develops a resistance to those drugs. The teaching of evolution is a science, not a theology. There is a theory that man and apes evolved from a common ancestor, but there is as of yet no proof— the "missing link" is still missing. And while those who believe the earth is only 6000 years old may say that the schools are violating their religious beliefs, the schools are merely teaching fact. Fact that does not rely on the existence of a supernatural deity to be true.
In a letter to Baron von Humboldt in 1813, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes." Such self-serving purposes are at the root of the current attempt to breach that wall of separation between churh and state. We MUST not let this happen. We should all show others the same courtesy we would like extended to us. Religion and spirituality is a very personal issue— let's keep it in our own personal spheres.