by Curt Kovener
We are on the threshold of that time of year when our holidays— based in religion— and our government— based in part on religious freedom— are at confusing and conflicting positions.
Thanksgiving is the time set aside by our federal government to give thanks for the blessings that we have received. It is all together fitting and appropriate that we have a time on which to focus to give thought and thanks for what we have.
The Pilgrims of Plymouth Bay colony are the ones credited for that first Thanksgiving. Those New England settlers of a then new world left their native England to escape the tyranny and mandate of a state-supported religion in order to worship their God in their way; not as dictated by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the King of England.
While this country was founded, in part, on the desire for religious freedom, the issue of prayer in school has been emotionally charged since the Supreme Court issued its school prayer decision in 1962 saying that school initiated prayer infringes upon the separation of church and state.
Certainly the 57-year-old decision is one which many southern Hoosiers find contrary to their own religious views.
Is there anything wrong about saying a prayer in school? Of course not. During my school days back in that other millenium, I confess to whispering for Divine intervention just prior to taking a test for which I had not properly prepared. And upon learning that I had turned in a passing performance, I quickly and quietly sighed a “Thank you, Lord.”
The Supreme Court decision has no problem with that for there is a difference here.
My prayers, both then and now, are a practice of religious freedom. But a time set aside in public school specifically for prayer, as much as many of us may morally and spiritually feel it is important for our youngsters, is an echo of the state sanctioned religious practices of England from which the Pilgrims fled in the 1600’s.
What our government and its people struggle with is not equating freedom of religion with freedom from religion. As much as many God-fearing folks would like everyone to believe the same thing they do, it cannot happen without undermining one of the founding principles and reasons people came to this country.
We seem to have this notion about religion that everyone ought to be religious. And indeed, we all need something in which to believe. Many of us find comfort in knowing that a Higher Power has a larger plan for all of the discontent we are witnessing. In this time of uncertainty, rising crime, and a longing for a return of tradition values and respect, it is understandable that many want to begin by putting prayer in public schools. But if we make little children take part in prayer in school should we not then force our adults to attend church?
According to a number of church conducted surveys, the vast majority of Americans claim to be believers eventhough mainstream church attendance has declined over the past 50 years.
Now here in southern Indiana, most of us don’t see why teachers can’t lead their class in prayer. Aside from being predominantly Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, most southern Hoosiers share the same belief in a triune Godhead. But as we culturally diversify, something that southern Indiana is bearing witness, where do those who follow the religious teachings of Budda or Mohammed or even agnostics and atheists fit into our prayer in school? If they don’t worship “our” way are they to be ostracized? And just how “Christian” is that?
Some may say,“If they attend our schools they ought to worship our way.” And isn’t that the very reason Pilgrim believers left England nearly 400 years ago?
What it all comes down to is the struggle between tolerance and intolerance. Those who settled in Plymouth Bay Colony left the intolerant religious attitude of 17th century England to pursue worshiping as they saw fit.
Tomorrow as we are being thankful for our more earthly blessing such as family, food and friends, perhaps we should also say a prayer of thanks that we are free to offer our prayers to whatever religious deity we find gives us comfort and spiritual security. And can do so without the approval or scrutiny of government.
Tomorrow let us humbly be thankful for that which we have; and be grateful that we do not get what we deserve.