Destroying Education to Save It

One of the most memorable phrases to emerge from the Vietnam era came from the lips of a U.S. Army colonel. After wiping out a Vietnamese village, the colonel solemnly declared, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it"—save it, that is, from the clutches of the Vietcong. Twenty years later, we’re seeing the same fallacious reasoning applied to American education. Under the guise of saving education, a court has just issued a ruling that could help destroy education altogether. This month the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a Mississippi statute that permitted student-led prayer in schools. This law was passed after a Mississippi public school principal was fired for allowing students to broadcast a brief prayer over the intercom each morning. The new law permitted student-led prayer at such school events as convocations and commencements. But the court ruled that the law was unconstitutional. Why? Because, it said, student-led prayer "represented a substantial threat to First Amendment rights," because it required nonpraying students to hear it. Therefore, the court said, "the statute was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion." Of course, a reasonable person might ask whether requiring teenagers to briefly maintain a respectful silence is an "endorsement" of anything. In fact, given the horrific problems that public school kids are exposed to today, it's hard to understand the court's preoccupation with "protecting" kids from exposure to prayer. According to U.S. News and World Report, three million crimes are committed in and around public schools every year. More than 270,000 kids take guns to school every day. One in seven twelfth graders reported being threatened with a weapon in school in 1992. Under the circumstances—with our schools bristling with guns—the courts have a nerve calling school prayer a "substantial threat." What today's judges forget is that Christianity is the source of the civic and personal virtues that make civil society possible. Until the 1960s, school prayer and Bible reading were common in public schools. They served as a public acknowledgment that the Christian religion is the source of our moral code—a historic fact. But secularists have been knocking themselves out trying to break the connection between religion and morality. We can be good without God, they claim. But when cut loose from any transcendent basis, morality degenerates into individual choice. For the past several decades, public schools have taught students to choose for themselves what is right and wrong. And what are they choosing? To take guns to school and threaten their classmates. Like that army colonel in Vietnam, civil libertarians are so blinded in their zeal to root out what they consider the enemy to freedom that they've lost sight of the larger good. Far from being a threat, Christianity is the very basis of civility, because its moral teachings help establish an ordered environment in the classroom. So when the courts throw out school prayer, they're not saving public education; they're hastening its demise. Kids can't learn when they're dodging bullets in the hallway. And that's the lesson we have to teach our neighbors—before our schools, like that Vietnamese village, are completely destroyed.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary