On September 11th, 2017, the faculty and more than 700 students of Yosemite High School gathered inside Yosemite High School’s Badger Stadium to remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks in a “Patriot Day memorial”. Retired Navy Chaplain Richard Lamontagne gave both a prayer and a benediction. And by doing so, Yosemite High School broke the law.
On September 13th, Yosemite High School Principal Regina Carr and Yosemite USD Superintendent Cecelia Greenberg posted an email to the parents of all students that acknowledged the school’s error and explained that the prayer was done without the knowledge or permission of the district and that it should not have occurred. They also affirmed that they have “taken steps to ensure that the proper procedures will be followed, including receiving signatures to that effect, at any event in which our students attend.”
It is gratifying to see Yosemite High School acknowledging this error, and that it should not occur in the future.
So, why is CVAAS against school prayer? Why do we want to “ban God from school?”
The answer is, it’s not that simple.
Let’s be honest. As long as there are pop quizzes, there will be prayer in school. (Apologies to the Marshall-Brennan Fellows at American University)
CVAAS proudly supports the right of any individual student to pray in school as they feel they need. We support the right of students to take religious texts to school, whether it is a Bible, a Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Book of Mormon, or whatever holy text is deemed necessary by the student.
We expect public schools to allow all freedom of worship that is not disruptive to the school or a distraction to the class or a constitutional violation.
We disagree with those public schools that break the law as laid out by the Supreme Court in accordance with the United States Constitution.
The Constitution is clear. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
In simple terms, when it comes to religion Congress shall not play favorites.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees that all citizens of every state have rights equal to all other citizens. Including the equality of justice under the law. Under the Due Process portion of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court has ruled that much of the Bill of Rights apply to state and local governments.
Again, in simple terms, when it comes to religion states and local governments shall not play favorites.
In the past, different Christian congregations saw the separation of religion and government as a good thing. For example, the Southern Baptists were worried that Catholics were too pervasive in government, and in 1947 the Southern Baptist Convention created a resolution that state and church must be kept separate – especially in public schools – presumably so that Catholic schools would not receive state money. The SBC resolution stated that the government should treat all faiths and creeds equally.
Public schools in the USA are funded by, and/or run by a governmental entity. This is primarily a state entity unless the school also receives federal funding, in which case some federal authority is applied. Even private schools that receive federal funding subject themselves to federal jurisdiction to some extent.
CVAAS, along with other secular and religious organizations, point out that public schools are bound by the First Amendment to not “establish” one religion over any other. That all students must be treated justly, equally. By law, one religious denomination may not promote its beliefs to the student population to the exclusion of other religious denominations.
In championing the US Constitution, in demanding equality of justice under the law, CVAAS is not only protecting the rights of secular students, but the rights of minority religious students.
The rights we share are a very big deal. They are worth getting upset over.
Some people may have the attitude that it “doesn’t affect me”. There are those who brush this off because they “don’t have to listen,” that they “don’t have to participate.”
This has not always been the case in America.
In 1928 the state of Pennsylvania created a law mandating that public schools read at least 10 verses from the Bible each day. Students were usually required to read these verses, no matter what religion the student was. Four other states had similar laws, and 25 states had laws that allowed schools to “optionally” read the bible. Schools that chose to read the bible could require students to do the reading. Again, the child’s religion was often not considered.
In the 1930’s West Virginia mandated compulsory reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses objected on religious grounds, and those students were expelled from school.
It wasn’t until 1943 that the Supreme Court ruled that schools may not coerce or force students to recite the Pledge. In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for schools to compose official school prayers and require or encourage its recitation in school. The court ruled that school prayer is a religious activity that promoted one religious belief over another, and was therefore forbidden by the Constitution. The court ruled this to be a violation even if the promotion of religious belief was not coercive, even if the prayer is vaguely worded.
It doesn’t matter if a student is allowed to sit or leave the audience. SCOTUS ruled that even then this is a violation of the First Amendment.
By supporting the First Amendment, CVAAS is supporting the right of all citizens to worship as they like – or not – without fear of coercion. By pointing out violations of the Constitution by public schools, CVAAS is doing its part to protect our children from undue influence. To be treated equally under the law is our most basic right.
Take a moment to consider.
How would you respond to your child coming home and telling you that they prayed in a religion that you do not believe in? Would you be pleased if your child recited a prayer to a deity you do not worship?
Wouldn’t it be better if the public schools stayed away from religion entirely, and allowed YOU to oversee your child’s religious upbringing?
That is what CVAAS wants too.