Not so fast on prayer proposal

Tuesday, June 30, 1998

Editor’s note: This is an editorial from The Register-Herald in Beckley, W.Va., written by R. Shawn Lewis, editorial page editor. Posted with permission.

The issue: The proposed constitutional amendment on school prayer could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“To secure the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: Neither the United States nor any state shall establish any official religion, but the people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. Neither the United States nor any state shall require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, prescribe school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion.” — Text of proposed school prayer amendment to the Constitution.

Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.

School prayer is one of those red, white and blue issues such as flag burning that generates a lot of emotion, but that emotion often blocks rational thinking on the issue.

For years, the religious right has been pressuring Congress to add a school prayer amendment to the Constitution. Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has put the issue before the House of Representatives, where it is expected to be voted on this week.

If approved, the amendment would permit student-led prayer, prayers over the intercom and prayers from the podium at school events. Teachers and administrators also would be allowed to express their religious beliefs to students.

Supporters, mainly fundamental Christians, say the amendment will put God back in American schools. Indeed it will, but what face will God take? The proposed amendment forbids the establishment of a state religion, so all faiths would have to be given equal opportunity.

America is a diverse country, and Christianity, although still the dominant belief, is now rivaled by the Muslim faith, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and scores more, including doomsday cults.

The amendment justifiably gives these sects the same rights to express their beliefs as Christianity. That means if little Johnny leads the class in grace before lunch, little Abdul can ask that students bow toward Mecca before class.

It also would allow Mr. Jones to tell his pupils about his Heaven’s Gate beliefs. Under the amendment, Mr. Jones, a student favorite, might be able to convince a few kids to join his cult with this newfound freedom.

Mrs. Jabaar could teach children about paradise and how, if they die fighting for their religious beliefs, they go to a higher level of paradise.

For every teacher who tells students about Jesus, others would be free to talk about Mohammed or Buddha or Krishna or whoever.

Again, be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.

The religious right and all Americans should closely examine what the proposed amendment really does. Yes, it will put God back in school, but that god won’t necessarily be your Almighty.

Is that what fundamental Christians really want?