Thursday, June 10, 2010

Another Graduation Prayer Flap

Our Founders invoked prayer in many and varied situations. It was part of the life and culture of our country for most of its history. Today, though, because of a Supreme Court decision, one has to be careful about where and when they might wish to pray aloud.

Prayer at a school graduation was the subject of the Supreme Court case. In some court decisions, public schools were specifically named as a factor because the students are not yet adults and are required to attend school. The latest situation involves not a public K-12 school, but rather a university, Montana State University-Northern. The complaint seems to be based on the fact that the Christian pastor who performed the invocation and benediction had the nerve to refer to Christ in the context of his savior.

But weren't these college students adults? They certainly weren't required to attend the school. Not all court cases used the "public school" argument, though, so this incident would still have been found unconstitutional by those courts.

The university in this case is a state university, at least partly funded by state tax revenue. And objectors might say this runs afoul of our supposed "separation of church and state" (a quote from Thomas Jefferson in a letter). But Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 (years after the First Amendment was ratified). He provided in his regulations for the University of Virginia that the main rotunda be used for religious worship. He also encouraged the faculty to pray with students. Would Jefferson have also wanted to censor their prayers based on the content? Would he have allowed a prayer to "God" but not to "Jesus Christ"? One doesn't have to read much about Jefferson to know that he was a believer in individual rights and in "freedom of religion" (a phrase he used much more often than his singular reference to separation of church and state). Surely most of the Founders would have been upset to think that the courts would limit the way people could pray. Such limitations are supposedly based on the First Amendment, but reading back into the debates around the First Amendment, and Jefferson's letters to those who were writing it, shows that it was intended to protect religious freedom. Is religious freedom really protected when a court can dictate what words may not be used in a prayer on the basis that those words might offend someone listening?

Read more about the story on the link below:

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