Choice, not law should be

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 21, 2000

the only thing to halt prayer


Managing Editor

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June 20, 2000 9 PM

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring that public prayer at school events is unconstitutional, and, therefore, illegal makes no sense to me.

Yesterday, The Messenger criticized the decision, saying that elimination of the rights of one group of people to ensure the rights of another group is dead wrong. It’s a position I largely agree with, but I want to make some personal comments on the matter.

Our U.S. Constitution ensures separation of church and state, something I strongly agree with for a number of reasons. One reason is that not everyone shares the same religion, and this is a country built on diversity, hence the appropriate phrase "melting pot." Just as we have different ancestry, different cultural values and different religious beliefs.

Looking at England and the origin of the Anglican Church and also considering Rome and the influence of the papacy on Roman government, it is right to separate church from state, and in doing so, we must commit to the principle entirely. Those countries were so politically tied to religion that political and religious corruption ran amuck as people sought political and spiritual power. And the force of both combined was too much power for one person to wield, as this age of democratic government has taught us.

I believe strongly in the rights of all people to express their views, but I contend that these views are private convictions. While I detest any law that would require that school officials refrain from leading public prayer at a football game, I would equally detest a law that mandated it.

I think the Supreme Court should refuse to rule on such an issue. I believe the appropriate response is that all people have religious protection under the law, and no law should be passed that infringes on any person’s right to pray or not to pray, either publicly or privately.

But on a personal note, I believe that people should be considerate of the positions of others. When behavior is offensive to some, it should not be exhibited as a matter of common courtesy. And if there’s anything I believe that we should exhibit as Christians, it’s courtesy to our fellow man, Christian or not.

I choose not to pray publicly because I realize it makes some people uncomfortable. Praying in church with people who are religiously like-minded is fine, but praying among people of many different faiths (and some with no faith at all) seems to me to be inviting misinterpretation of what we stand for. Therefore I choose not to do it.

I don’t think it should be illegal, but I think it should generally be avoided.

The best analogy I can make is one to the Rebel flag. I attended the University of Mississippi during the hooplah over the waving of the "symbol of hatred and oppression" (as the national media proclaimed it). All the while, I insisted I had the right and protection under law to wave any symbol I chose. I also contended that it was not a symbol of hatred, but one of courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

That said, I didn’t wave the flag, even though I could have. Though I had that right (just as I now have the right to burn an American flag), I felt that practicing it would be offensive to people who would misunderstand my beliefs.

I feel the same way about public prayer. We should have the right to pray publicly, but it is perhaps a better reflection of our Christian convictions if we exercise that right in places designated for it. Football games are not church revivals and the more we pray at government-sanctioned events, the more we blur the clear line of demarcation between church and state, and we risk offending others in the process.

A moment of silence seems to be more appropriate. It’s too bad that that the Supreme Court can’t agree without issuing a ruling on the subject.

Brian Blackley is the managing editor of The Messenger. He may be reached by calling 670-6314 or via e-mail at  

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