In her May 1 letter, Sharon Thompson describes her experience attending Muskogee Public Schools which began with short Bible reading, prayer and flag salute. Then she asks, “What has happened to that today?”
I had the same experience growing up in Muskogee schools. Americans learned about 50 years ago that students of other faiths or no faith were excluded by this Protestant Christian exercise in schools paid for by everybody’s tax money. Eventually, these issues ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court:
• 1948 McCollum v. Bd. of Education — religious instruction in public schools violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment and is unconstitutional.
• 1962 Engel v. Vitale — any kind of prayer composed by public school districts, even nondenominational prayer, is unconstitutional government sponsorship of religion.
• 1963 Abington School District v. Schempp — Bible reading over school intercom is unconstitutional; and Murray v. Curlett — forcing a child to participate in Bible reading and prayer is unconstitutional.
The important truth here is not that “the government” is hostile to Christianity or any religion, but that our founders wrote a Constitution which is neutral to all religious faiths, and promotes none of them. Religious expression should be voluntary.
The rulings do permit religion and the Bible to be taught as academic subjects, but not as evangelism. Youngsters may gather to pray on school property, but the administration should not sponsor it, because that makes the school an extension of the church.
I remember my mom often saying: “I don’t expect or want our Muskogee schools to teach you kids religion. That’s my and your dad’s responsibility, guided by our church.”
Many people claim “God has been taken out of our schools.” God has not and cannot be “removed” from our public schools or any setting. Students, teachers and administrators who desire to pray there do so every school day. They just don’t do it in a way that infringes on anyone else’s practice of his or her faith.