Facilitating Faith

All Raymond Raines wanted to do was whisper a quick prayer over his lunch. But every time the fourth-grader bowed his head, school officials sent him to the principal's office. Raymond's mother complained to the principal of Waring Elementary School in St. Louis, only to be told that praying is not allowed in public school. Of course, private, voluntary prayer is permitted in public schools—or should be. But many school principals wrongly believe that it's their constitutional duty to slap down religious expression wherever they see it—even the whispered prayer of a child. It's to protect kids like Raymond that prompts millions of Americans to support a constitutional amendment—one that would protect not just voluntary prayer, but all voluntary religious expression in public schools. Liberals, of course, are aghast at the very idea. They'd have us believe that if a "Religious Liberties Amendment" passes, we could expect to see Mother Teresa skipping through public schools passing out rosaries. Or we'd see the Rev. Jerry Falwell barging into classrooms to stuff a Baptist prayer down every child's throat. Of course, that's not what amendment supporters have in mind at all. They just want to protect voluntary religious activities. That they need protection is no longer debatable. During the past three decades, Christian parents have watched with alarm—and anger—as hostility toward religious expression has become more and more blatant. Hostility toward kids like the 11-year-old boy in Virginia who was told he couldn't recite a poem because it contained a reference to Jesus. Hostility toward a Pennsylvania child who was told it's "inappropriate" to write "Jesus Loves You" on a lunch box. Hostility toward high school students in Texas who were told they couldn't advertise their after-school Bible club unless they censored the words God and Jesus. Opponents of a religious liberties or prayer amendment say changing the Constitution is too drastic—that it would force prayer on unwilling students. But nobody's asking for teacher-led prayer, or for the state to endorse a particular religion. They just want students to have the right of free religious expression—to pray over lunch, read a Bible during recess, or wear a T-shirt sporting a Scripture verse. Nonreligious students wouldn't be forced to participate in student-led prayers or clubs. They'd simply have to show the same respect for religious activities as they do for any other student-led function. When—and now if—Congress takes up this issue, you and I need to let our representatives know how strongly we support an amendment that would protect our children's religious liberties. But we also have to make sure our neighbors understand that a religious liberties amendment isn't about forcing five-year-olds to drop to their knees to recite the Lord's Prayer, or any prayer. It's about protecting kids like Raymond Raines, who just want to bow their heads and pray . . . without being punished.


Chuck Colson


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