I read with mixed emotions the front-page article in the July 4 issue of the Catoosa County News reporting the protest by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) against a prayer as part of the recent Ringgold High School graduation ceremony.
I have no personal objections to religious rites as a part of classes or other school functions. It merely reflects my own faith. But there are others with equal rights who might view this situation differently
Both the elementary and high schools I attended in the 1930s and ’40s had a small but significant Jewish enrollment. And, as most of us know, Jews do not accept Jesus as their Messiah and do not recognize the New Testament as Holy Scripture. Yet we opened each school day with a Bible reading, often from the New Testament, followed by reciting the Lord’s Prayer as prescribed by Jesus. And, as far as I know, no Jews ever objected, at least not publicly. But in those pre-Israel days all Jews lived in places where they were a distinct religious minority and they probably had their own ways of dealing with this uncomfortable situation. But it’s a different world today with more and different players.
In many American communities today there are Muslims, Hindus and other faiths. But there are also those of no religion at all, atheist and agnostics. And they also have their rights which some might express as “freedom from religion.” Our courts have consistently ruled in the original and subsequent “school prayer” decisions that publicly-sanctioned religious activities of any kind conducted on public property are in violation of the First Constitutional Amendment providing for the separation of religion and government.
Personally, I am a believing, practicing Christian. I am also an evangelical who believes in changed lives through a conversion experience. I have known of these experiences or spiritual awakenings taking place through the personal testimony of other Christians, at regular Sunday church services, at revival services (if there still are any), at street corner preaching and even in bar rooms. Statistically, more conversions take place though personal testimony than by any other effort. But I’ve never known of one taking place in a public school classroom, ceremony or athletic event. And for religious institutions to expect schools to “carry the message” is a tacit admission that they are not up to the job.
Our founding fathers, most all Christians, knew what they were doing when they composed the First Amendment. The faith prescribed by Jesus was pure, simple and unfettered. But when religion gets in the hands of ambitious clergy and uncritical, compliant congregations it can quickly become corrupted and oppressive.
As I said previously, various courts have been amazingly consistent in their interpretation and application of the Separation Clause. For local authorities to continue to test the First Amendment without introducing some new or innovative evidence is anything but faithful or heroic. It is an expensive exercise in futility. To repeatedly do the same thing, but expecting different results is not smart.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.