All across the United States this month young people celebrated the end of their high school careers and prepared for a summer of relaxation and reflection before embarking on the next chapter of their lives. At graduation ceremonies in every school, valedictorians gave their renditions of the outlook for the future and encouraged their fellow graduates to continue learning and working for the common good of the community and the country. Many speakers invoked a deity, and at some school graduation ceremonies a chaplain or student led the assembly in prayer in direct violation of the Constitution. Private religious schools are at liberty to conduct group prayers, read religious screeds, and even recite bible verses to their heart’s content because they do not use government money.
There are instances of students protesting prayers at graduation ceremonies, and the students have been ostracized by school officials, religious groups, other students, and parents for demanding public schools follow the law of the land. Unfortunately, even with threats of lawsuits and intervention by the American Civil Liberties Union, schools continue to break the law with impunity. In the latest example of unconstitutional public school prayer, the ACLU and a student’s protest was not enough to stop the blatant disregard for non-Christians in attendance or the law.
In Louisiana, a Bastrop High student, Damon Fowler, contacted the ACLU about prayer at school functions, and the organization threatened to take legal action on the student’s behalf if the praying continued. In response to the impending legal action, school officials said that instead of a prayer, there would be a moment of silence which in Christian-speak is code for prayer and a way for schools to circumvent the law. Many school events even denote in programs that the moment of silence is for silent prayer, but there is no reason to have the moment of silence at all, except to snub the law.
When a student took the stage to lead the assembly in a “moment of silence,” he defied the ACLU and school officials by breaking into prayer. The crowd in attendance cheered wildly at the student-led prayer which provoked a strongly-worded letter from the ACLU demanding an apology to the student who objected to the prayer. The ACLU also asked school officials to consider disciplining the student who led the prayer and to take measures to ensure graduation ceremonies are not used to present religious messages.
The student has been threatened with physical violence, death threats, demeaned by teachers, ostracized by the community, and cut off from all financial support by his parents who threw him and his belongings out of his house. The young man has been the subject of ridicule and was accused of being Satan, and at a pre-graduation event the community publicly closed ranks around him for abuse and there is video to support his allegations. The incident is not isolated, and around the country young people are being provoked to insist that prayer be reinstated in the schools. The current push to reinstate prayer in schools is fallacious, because there was never prayer in schools regardless of Christians’ assertions to the contrary; except in parochial schools.
There is a feeling of entitlement by Christians that they can subvert the Constitution, and that the Separation of Church and State is errant because the Founding Fathers intended for America to be a Christian nation even though there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Revisionist historians like David Barton have made it their life’s work to promote the idea that the Separation Clause is non-existent, and it has fostered a movement to revisit the 1st Amendment to remove the clause retroactively. Interestingly, the same fundamentalists who want to change the 1st Amendment are constitutional originalists who yearn to return to the Founders original intent even though their intent differs from evangelicals’ notion of a Christian nation.
Christian fundamentalists have persecuted atheists and agnostics for the past 30 years with accusations that non-believers are aggressive and are “throwing atheism in our faces,” when the opposite is true. In California and around the country a campaign to bring together non-believers to work for charities and the community to help the poor has been met with demeaning press at the behest of evangelical church leaders. The alleged “war on Christmas” has been characterized as an attempt to turn the holiday into a pagan celebration; which is where Christmas originated from.
Christmas, graduation exercises, and government events notwithstanding, there is a dangerous trend of Christian fundamentalists taking over the government to change the nature of America. It may be in part because in America, like the rest of the world, Christianity is on the decline and the number of Americans claiming to be Atheists, Agnostic, or non-religious has increased by 15% leading to an alarming trend of fundamentalists making a last-ditch effort to force Christianity on the country. The conservatives in government are culpable for their efforts to inject Christianity into politics, and indeed, all Americans’ lives whether they like it or not.
It is understandable that politicians acknowledge religion, because there is no doubt or dispute that Christianity is the predominant faith in America, but a purist’s interpretation of the Separation of Church and State should disallow any religious involvement in the government. For a politician to even acknowledge religion or Christianity fuels the notion that America is a Christian nation, so prayer or moments of silence should never be included in any government function.
The young man who protested prayers at school events is not an isolated case, and around the country young people are standing up to school officials and fundamentalists who “force their religion down the throats” of non-believers regardless of age or station in life. The Constitution does not forbid religious fundamentalists from praying whenever and wherever they please, but it does maintain the separation of the government and religion and it means no public school prayer. If a Hindu student insisted that school officials force a Puja recitation at a graduation ceremony, the student would be ostracized, publicly humiliated, stoned or banished. It should be no different with Christian fundamentalists who force their religion on the public.
Evangelical Christian leaders recently conceded in an interview that there were Christians around the country who were prepared for armed conflict to enforce Christianity if necessary, and they claimed the military and Congress had been infiltrated by fundamentalists; it is a foreboding that should frighten every person in America. If any American thinks they are safe from fundamentalist Christians whose intent is replacing the Constitution with the Ten Commandments and its Stone Age punishment (stoning), they are deluded and do not comprehend the level of violence extremists are capable of inflicting in god’s name.
The young man in Louisiana who opposed school prayer faced death threats and public abuse with support from the community, and the school prayer continued despite warnings and threats of lawsuits from the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The threats the student received were videotaped, and parents, teachers, and school officials were participants on different levels with little regard for the law. If in America in 2011, one student faces public threats without a theocratic government or the Ten Commandments as the law of the land, imagine the violent Crusade and Inquisition a group of well-armed, angry fundamentalists will unleash if given authority and power. Last month, an interviewer asked four evangelical church leaders if their intent of using violence to force Christianity on Americans was tantamount to the Taliban in Afghanistan. They replied that, “yes, they were the same as the Taliban except they were better armed, better organized, and had the full support of conservatives in positions of power.” Still think fundamentalist Christians are harmless? You should be mortified.