Praying for Peace

A new teenage trend has been spreading through the public schools—and it's enough to keep ACLU lawyers lying awake at night. Across the country millions of students are pushing the limits of school-prayer legislation—and both state and federal lawmakers are saying, "Amen." Just last Wednesday, state house members in Florida voted overwhelmingly to authorize student-led prayer at high school graduations, sporting events, and noncompulsory assemblies. The bill still has to go through the state senate. On the same day, the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics allowed a school-prayer measure to be placed on the ballot this fall. If passed, the measure will allow nonsectarian, nonproselytizing, student-initiated prayer in D.C. public schools. All together at least nine states have introduced school-prayer legislation. And on the federal level, the U.S. Congress has just voted to withhold federal education money from any schools that forbid students from praying. Of course, groups like the ACLU and People for the American Way are already gearing up to challenge all these laws in court. Yet the school-prayer movement has attracted a surprisingly wide range of supporters—from white, rural conservatives to black, big-city liberals. What links this diverse group together is the conviction that our nation is suffering from moral decay—and that secularism in the public schools is one of the main culprits. Bringing prayer back into the schools has come to symbolize bringing back a transcendent source of morals and meaning. As one Florida legislator put it, "We're bringing back to our children the recognition that there is a place for spiritual and moral enlightenment." Marion Barry, the former mayor of Washington, D.C., said, "With all the violence and other problems, [allowing people to pray] may set a moral tone at the schools." Until the 1960s, school prayer and Bible reading served as a public acknowledgement that the Christian religion is the source of our moral code. But secularists have been busy trying to break the connection between religion and morality. We can be good without God, they claimed. But when cut loose from any transcendent basis, morality degenerates into individual choice. For the past several decades, public school values courses have taught students to choose for themselves what is right and wrong. Today the consequences of teaching do-it-yourself morality have become painfully clear: schools with metal detectors, drug raids, armed guards, and a generation of unmarried teen mothers. The truth is that you cannot separate morality from religion. Historian Will Durant conducted a massive survey of Western civilization, concluding that no society has even been known to maintain "a moral life without the aid of religion." Why don't you investigate your own state's laws governing school prayer. We're not talking today about teacher-led prayer, where the teacher acts as an agent of the state to endorse a particular religion. We're talking about students' right of free religious expression, in student-led activities. This is one teenage fad we ought to be encouraging.


Chuck Colson


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