Saturday, September 08, 2012

After 50 years, some still misunderstand high court school prayer decision

From Secular News Daily, courtesy of a facebook friend:

Let’s dissect this a bit. First off, Ryan’s claim that school prayer is “a constitutional issue of the states” is inaccurate. State legislators can, of course, pass school prayer laws if they want, but it’s a waste of time. If a law mandates or compels young people to take part in prayer or religious worship, the courts will strike it down.

It’s not like this is some recent development. The first school prayer case to reach the Supreme Court, Engel v. Vitale, was decided in June of 1962 – 50 years ago. (Read more about the Engel case here.) The high court made it clear – and subsequent decisions have affirmed – that a religious majority cannot compel the minority to take part in worship activities.

So, this is not an issue of “state’s rights.” Ever since the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, states have had no power to infringe upon the liberties guaranteed us by the First Amendment.

More here.

Of course, this is not surprising at all in that conservatives have been whining about how the liberals took prayer out of the schools pretty much the entire fifty years it's been the law of the land. But it's extraordinarily surprising when you think about it for, like, two seconds.

For starters, the Court never actually took prayer out of the schools: rather, the decision clarified what the first amendment's "establishment clause" means in the real world. That is, the schools, being part of the government, cannot mandate that students pray because doing so is tantamount to the state establishing an official religion, namely Christianity. So students can still pray on their own. Students have always been able to pray on their own. Prayer was never removed from the schools. Ever.

But compounding the surprise here, as the article observes, is how conservatives don't understand that keeping teachers and administrators out of their children's spiritual understanding is in reality a good thing. I mean, can you imagine agnostic, liberal me leading a prayer? Never mind that this would be an abridgement of my own first amendment rights, being forced by my employer, the government, to lead what amounts to a mini-worship service. My heart would certainly not be involved with such an act, and there's no way to keep that from showing. Imagine a Muslim teacher leading the prayer, or a Mormon, or a Pagan. It gets weirder the more you think about it.

Conservatives just don't think things through. And really, that's their biggest problem.