Sunday, November 14, 2010

Charlie Brown and School Prayer

I was reading the Sunday comics recently and noticed the Peanuts strip. Charlie Brown's sister came into the house after school and found Charlie watching television. She indicates to "Chuck" that she wants to talk to him. Then she leads him to another room, looks around to make sure no one is in earshot, and whispers to him, "We prayed school today!" Obviously she knew this could be big trouble if anyone found out!

The strip's creator, Charles Shulz, died 10 years ago, so this is not exactly a new strip. And it's not a new issue this year. But perhaps it IS a new issue in the last few decades, compared to the rest of our history. It used to be a practice in some classrooms. Some school systems even had officially-suggested wording for the prayer. I don't know if any teachers were required to do a prayer in class, but I suppose it could have happened.

Why is this such a forbidden concept today? Is it because of the Constitution? Not exactly, in my opinion. The Constitution addresses religion in the First Amendment, where it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." The word "respecting" is interesting it that context. Many states at the time had official religions. One could easily think that the Founders who wrote it this way intended that the federal government should not make a law that interferes with one of those existing religion establishments, and that they should also not make a law that establishes a "higher-level" federal religion. I believe that is logical.

But the courts in recent decades apparently believed that the Founders wanted to keep any religion out of any level of government, from opening a town council meeting with prayer, to allowing religious displays in city parks, to prayers at high school graduations, to...

One certainly could argue that since the people's rights in the First Amendment have been carried down to the states by later Amendments, then the "official" prayer that New York state had some years ago would be a problem. But is it more of a stretch to say that praying in class in unconstitutional? Not for the courts, perhaps, but it stretches me considerably.

And that is not to say I'm necessarily in favor of having prayers in class. I'm simply saying that doing so is not a breach of the U.S. Constitution.

See the comic strip I mentioned at the link below:

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