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June 25, 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the Engel v. Vitale Supreme Court decision which banned prayer in public schools. Minister David Barton has accurately observed that in the years following that landmark 1962 decision, social pathologies increased amongst America’s public school students including promiscuity, pregnancy, abortion, depression, suicide and drug abuse. The daily experience of prayer to a Supreme Being offered a moment of thanks and acknowledgement for the many blessings bestowed on our great nation and reminded our children that there was something greater in the universe than mere material satisfactions.
Yet, it should be acknowledged that public schools should not be engaging in religious prayer. This is not because prayer is unconstitutional, which it is not in spite of the activist decision by the Supreme Court, but because religious traditions differ in terms of methods of prayer to God and atheists have a right not to pray. Prayer is a religious act and, as such, prayer should not be conducted officially and regularly by secular authorities. How, then, can we get God back into public schools?
The injection of an activist Supreme Court into what was a state issue, from a constitutional standpoint, resulted in an authoritarian expansion of federal power over a fundamental human right. It should be noted that the first amendment starts out by declaring that Congress shall make no law establishing religion. The New York State Regents prayer, which was banned by the Supreme Court, had nothing whatsoever to do with Congress as the law was passed by the New York State Assembly. Therefore, the first amendment was not violated by the New York state sanctioned prayer and since no coercion was involved, as an objecting student could be excused from reciting the prayer, the Supreme Court and the Federal Government had no constitutional right to interfere in a state matter.
After World War II, and after the defeat of the atheistic Nazi socialists, Americans were concerned over the fact that the atheistic Soviet socialists were still on the march. They sought to counter the insidious influence of the Communists and their American sympathizers by reminding students that rights came from the creator and were not, rather, privileges granted by an authoritarian state, the essential idea contained within both varieties of authoritarian socialism, both Nazi and Communist. It was during the 1950’s, the apogee of international Communism and the murders of four times more people than were murdered by the Nazis, that Americans turned to religious faith as containing the fundamental principles of American freedom and democracy. In those years the National Prayer Breakfast was established, “In God we Trust” was inscribed on our coins, and “Under God” was added to our Pledge of Allegiance.
Yet the effect of several Supreme Court decisions banning prayer would have the practical effect of virtually banning the Creator of the Universe from public schools. It occurs to this author that there is a simple way to bring God back into the public schools and this would ultimately be more meaningful than a public school non-sectarian prayer. The solution is in the Declaration of Independence. That foundational document states that: We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By reciting this line in the Declaration of Independence in the morning before classes begin, and with a brief discussion of why American rights come from the Creator and not from the state, American children would acknowledge God, in the civic sense, and the communist influence would be check-mated. No person would dare sue a school for reciting a line from the Declaration of Independence and no court would consider taking such a suit if it were filed.
To keep things interesting, and to avoid turning such an exercise into a mindless repetition, the public school should recite lines from public speeches delivered by every American president from George Washington to Barack Obama, speeches which appeal to the Almighty for guidance and blessing. Indeed, every American president has beseeched God in one way or another. Prehaps the modern American president who has appealed to the creator more than the others in his public utterances would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This daily exercise would re-introduce God to the public schools, set back the influence of the left-wing authoritarians, and contribute to a more Godly nation and society. After 50 years of exile, God would return to our schools.