If the Muslims had a far larger presence in America, which they or some other non-Christian sect might have at some time in the future, Christians and secularists alike would battle any legislative efforts to institute bowing to Mecca on prayer rugs and required Muslim incantation recitals several times daily during the school day. Attempts to allow "voluntary" prayers in public schools, even if requested by a majority of students, should be rejected as equally offensive.
Some of us are losing faith, not in faith (we long ago dismissed that as a preposterous concept), but in reason, at least as a tool for communicating with religious fundamentalists. This is particularly so concerning the unrelenting assault on the principle of church/state separation. While violations take many forms, one of the most common is seen in attempts to reintroduce prayers in public schools.
In towns, cities and states across the land, secularists must engage in a never-ending struggle with theists to stop their efforts to inject prayer rituals in sporting events, graduation ceremonies and other assemblies and in classrooms. True believers, often-undereducated Right Wing Republicans, can’t seem to get that the 1st Amendment establishment clause originally and at present separates church and state functions. This provision has worked well for more than two centuries. It has benefited not only secularists but also the religious freedoms of believers.
Christians and others are free to pray all they like - but they can’t impose prayer on others - at least not yet. Hold your hat - the future lies ahead. The make up of the current Supreme Court is such that this separation tradition is not secure.
I live in Florida, where the fundamentalist mentality is very strong at state and local levels. The Florida Legislature, an overwhelmingly Republican body, is infamous for attempted church/state violations. The latest is of special note.
A Senate Bill (#0098) would authorize school boards to encourage school prayer, including sectarian prayer, “at the discretion of the student body.” The Center for Inquiry (CFI) and other national secularist groups have noted that this “mischief-making proposal to encourage students to inflict prayer on other students is unconstitutional.” Others have noted that #0098, if it enacted, would once again create conditions where "religion’s effect would be to inflame peer pressure to conform to a ritual of the Christian majority, promote bullying and exclusion, erect barriers between students, magnify differences and reward conformity."
Many secularists in other parts of the U.S. might have thought that it was well established by now that a captive audience of young, impressionable students should not be subjected to proselytization, either by authority figures or by a “class vote.” The CFI stated that, “the First Amendment places freedom of conscience above majority rule. The Supreme Court has ruled in more than 60 years of consistent decisions that prayers have no role in classrooms, graduations or school events. The Court has ruled so-called ‘student-initiated’ prayer equally inappropriate.”
And yet, the Florida Legislature is now moving toward creating a law that would ignore all these objections. Reason has little chance in the face of religious fervor or, perhaps, cynical manipulation of voters by politicians seeking political advantage.
Over a century ago, a Florida jurist wrote this in a landmark decision: “There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed.” Weiss v. District Board, 44 N.W. 967, 981 (1890).
If this legislation passes, taxpayers will be burdened not just with bad law but with the costs of defending a foolish statue that will eventually be rejected, even by the current Supremes.”
To put a halt to this legislation, a different strategy should be considered by Florida and other secularists interested in separation of church and state in general and safeguarding against pernicious school prayer rituals. How? By supporting a prayer of their own!
Normally, finding a prayer that would prove acceptable to freethinkers, atheists, infidels, heretics, apostates and the like - who, by the way, can’t even agree on what to call themselves, would be impossible. However, not so in the case of the prayer I have in mind. It comes from the Holy Book of Python, Chapter II in "The Meaning of Life" under Growth and Learning, as follows.
O Lord, ooh, You are so big, so absolutely huge. Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell you. Forgive us, O Lord, for this, our dreadful toadying and bare-faced flattery, but You are so strong, and, well, just so super fantastic. Amen.
This prayer can be led by a headmaster, principal, teacher or student elected as prayer leader by other students. Or, best of all, it could, on important occasions, be led by a member of the Florida Legislature who voted for bill #0098, or the governor who signed the legislation that made it official.