Monday, August 6, 2012

Public School Prayer: Politics and Reality

Ever since the 1963 Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory recitation of the Lord's Prayer and compulsory Bible reading in public schools, religious activists have been trying to sneak imposed religion back in.

In Virginia and Maryland, for instance, politicians have been trying to legislate "protection" for prayer in public schools. And you can bet they aren't doing this to protect the right of Muslim school children to get out their prayer rugs in class and worship Allah in the classroom.

The Religious Right typically traces what they perceive as the accelerating moral depravity of the nation back to this Supreme Court decision. They apparently think that compelling kids to recite the Lord's Prayer (which most of them could not recite correctly, by the way) appeases God and promotes right moral conduct. Now, they charge, our kids lack this moral compass and Satan and his demons are running wild amongst them.

In the good old days before the High Court's ban I was a Pennsylvania public school teacher. As such I was required to lead the kids in the Lord's Prayer AND read them ten verses from the Bible "without comment." Since I was none too enthusiastic about forcing the Bible on non-Christians and doubters, my favorite verses were those endless "begats" from Genesis. (The kids sometimes asked "What's a begat?" To which I would reply, "Sorry, I am not permitted to comment.")

Did I notice a fall-off in the kid's behavior after the High Court ban? Of course not, and no one else without an overactive imagination did either. The whole exercise of required religion, in public school or out, is not about reality or even genuine religiosity. It's about power — the ability to impose one's will on others. And that's what these Christian fundamentalists really want to do. They want to force their beliefs and practices on the rest of us. Of course, they have every right to believe what they will. But when they seek to end that same tolerance for others, it is they who become intolerable.

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