Why do so many Christians feel they are entitled to have prayer at public school functions? Don’t they have church and even Christian schools for those that find that important? Why do so many Christians STAND UP with outrage on an issue like being told to stop praying at ballgames, but so few Christians stand up for the poor, the hungry, the ones needing health care or for the civil liberties of others? Why can’t Christians understand that freedom of religion in the United States also means freedom FROM religion? Most churches offer Sunday School, youth programs, worship, and some even offer mission opportunities for school aged children, teenagers and young adults. Church provides a place to learn and exercise one’s religious beliefs and practices – not public schools – well not public school football games (or any school functions for that matter)!
North Pike Schools is one of the latest schools to be told by threat of lawsuits to stop praying at school functions. I graduated from North Pike Schools where I attended all 12 years of my compulsory education. On September 23, 2011, the North Pike School Board received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation reminding them of current laws regarding prayer at school functions. This of course has enraged the local Christian community. So many Christians forget all opportunities where they can exercise their religion, but tell them there is something they can’t do…. then they become livid!
Superintendent of North Pike Schools, Dr. Ben Cox handled the situation administratively saying, “North Pike will suspend prayer at sporting events and other functions. The school board doesn’t agree. Students, patrons and parents will still have the individual right to prayer.” (1) This would have been the best place to stop, but he went on to say, “It’s not a violation of federal law to have prayer at an event as long as the school does not initiate it. We encourage our patrons to express that right of religious freedom.” (1) This is how I translate the last part: it is not a violation of federal law to push the issue by trying to find a little loophole to bypass the law and have students and parents pray anyway. So I hope students at North Pike read this as I remind them it is not a violation of federal law to try to find loopholes in the school’s handbook, guidelines, or rules. I encourage the students to exercise their rights to dress and behave how they want at school, and I challenge them to express this right. When your parents say be home at 11:00pm for curfew, come home, then go right back out because they only said be home at 11:00pm; they did not say you cannot go back out. This is what Dr. Cox is suggesting; just find a way to justify doing what you want regardless of the law or rules. Let us teach our students instead of following the rules and/or laws, let us just find a way around it.(2)
Christians’ arrogance is one of the main reasons I no longer self-identify as a “Christian”. I do not see many that act Christ-like, but this fact does not make me less a follower of Christ to say – this is not what Jesus would do. The Bible has often been used as a weapon against me because I understand its purpose differently, so let me turn the tables and use their “source” of how to behave against them. Matthew 6: 5-6 says, ““And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Now, I also know the Bible also has passages that support praying out loud. So, like with most issues, we can all misuse and interpret the Bible to support just about any of our opinions. But I also know the Pharisees (Luke 18:9-14) were not looked upon fondly by Christ as they patted themselves on the back for how holy they were. I am sad to say, I see Pharisees in this issue and some will say they see the Devil in me. I feel God inspires me to stand up when I see injustice done in the name of religion or even freedom of religion; but other than God on my side, I also have the law on my side!
If more Christians stood up for “causes” other than those that only affect them, I would have more respect for their outrage. Where is their outrage for how the poor are treated in the U.S., where is their outrage for how healthcare coverage is not available for all, where is their outrage for how Wall Street wrecked our economy with no executives being arrested – only given bonuses, where is their outrage for working Americans losing their homes in foreclosure?
Pastors and Christian leaders may ask themselves, why is the number of Americans identifying as “non-religious” growing? (3) May I suggest behavior like this affects their Christian witness! Maybe fighting to keep prayer in schools, this behavior makes fewer people see Christ and only see people that are unjustly angry? Many Christians have forgotten to minister to people and only unite for self-serving purposes! And before arguing that people identifying as non religious is growing because prayer is being taken from school, look at it as people have seen these same Christians fighting to keep prayer in schools while NOT seeing them stand up for the poor, hungry, sick or lonely. They have seen them persecute, name call, and justify hatred while bullying groups of people in the name of God! But I can speak for myself: I identify as non-religious, but I do still believe in a God, the principles of Christ’s teaching; however religion has done more harm to my faith than help it grow!
Christians can always pray to themselves, and I am lost to understand why they feel everyone should be exposed to the practices of their faith. They are free to say a prayer to themselves any where, any time; no one wants to stop that, but praying to an audience gathered for a school function is not appropriate. This arrogance of feeling persecuted because they are told to follow the law reminds me of how spoiled some act…. I can do what I want… this is a Christian Nation! I fell to remember learning at North Pike that this is a Christian nation, I remember learning that the United States is a Nation founded on FREEDOM! As they have freedom OF religion, the rest of us have freedom FROM religion!
The founding fathers came to America to escape forced religion. King Henry VIII established The Church of England (the Anglican Church) as THE religion for England. So escaping from being forced to practice a certain religion is what inspired the founding fathers to start a new nation….. not establishing another Christian nation or they would not have felt religious persecution in England. Their intent was that religion would not be part of government. In the United States, public schools are funded by government funds and Christian practices should not be endorsed by the school, nor should Atheism, Muslim, Hinduism, Buddhism or ANY faith.
Schools and teachers have enough responsibility to teach, inspire and keep students safe in an academic environment; so, let’s not add religious education to the public schools responsibilities. Could schools even compete with all the various Christian faiths as to what is appropriate to teach about religion. I do not think many practitioners of the Pentecostal faith would want a Methodist or Baptist to teach Christian values to their children or vice versa… not to mention Catholics! The only thing I have found they all can agree on is hating gays! I have been told if someone does not like prayer at school functions, they can stay home – oh that is a great argument, the praying Christians get to decide who comes to PUBLIC school functions! My response is, if someone objects to following the law… they can send their kid to private school where Christianity is part of their curriculum. Christians could simply decide to meet before school functions in the parking lot, say a prayer, then go in to watch the game or better yet – just pray before they leave home for the game or function. A moment of silence – that is a joke! Spontaneously reciting something like the Lord’s Prayer out loud, in unison – WOW… group defiance and disrespect for the law 101!!! But heaven forbid they try finding a simple, legal solution that even satisfies the people that see things differently instead of trying to find ways to just circumvent the law.
I love the teachers, coaches and leaders at North Pike, I received a great education there, and know the dedication it takes to be a teacher, but let’s teach the students right – they are are school to learn, to be educated in academics. Children learn from the example set before them and North Pike’s leadership is encouraging anarchy, encouraging finding ways around the rules – so do not be surprised when this example is followed by the students in areas other than expressing their religious rights! I am a former youth minister and I dare say that less than 50% of these students are even actively involved in church. Many feel they are standing up for their Christian beliefs but how dare people that don’t agree with them stand up – even fellow Christians that see football games as a place to watch football… not a place to pray? What is your goal North Pike? Education or religion? Embrace the lifestyle of the Pharisee or hypocrite and enjoy its consequences!!
*(2) – http://www.enterprise-journal.com/news/article_4f643ef2-f282-11e0-82f2-001cc4c03286.html
*(3) – http://www.christianpost.com/news/survey-non-religious-americans-on-the-rise-in-every-state-37380/
Thomas, this is a wonderful post and you are a very fine writer!