Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2000

School prayer advocates don’t know when to give up

August 31, 2000

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Apparently, some folks just can't take no for an answer. At least that's what I find myself thinking after reading published reports about the new grass-roots movement in the South to circumvent the recent Supreme Court ruling that outlaws state-sanctioned prayer at high school sporting events. Specifically, movement organizers, including conservative groups and at least one talk-show host, are asking those who go to games this year to spontaneously link hands and recite the Lord's Prayer.

Those of you who got past the 10th grade will have already spotted the flaw in their thinking. If a thing is planned, it cannot by definition be spontaneous. Planned spontaneity is an oxymoron, a self-contradictory term like "jumbo shrimp," "loud silence" or "compassionate conservative."

Nevertheless, the idea is gaining ground. As one man in the Mississippi town of Bogue Chitto told a reporter, people who object to the public prayer will have two options: "They can shut their ears or go somewhere else."

Predictably, the American Civil Liberties Union says this will constitute a violation of the Supreme Court ruling. I suspect they're right, but I'll leave that to the Supremes to decide.

Me, I'm not here to analyze the legality of the movement, which is debatable, but the rationality of it ... which is nonexistent. Beyond showcasing a certain stubborn, hell-no-we-won't-go pugnacity, it's hard to see what these folks expect to get out of this, either for themselves or for their faith.

Frankly, I begin to believe that faith has little to do with it. I mean, let's be honest here: If the issue were only prayer, there could be no argument, because there's nothing anybody can do, no law any legislator can write, that can stop a person from praying. The nature of the act is such that you can do it in Times Square at high noon and no one can stop you. No one even has to know.

Which is, I suspect, the part that troubles certain of the Christian conservatives who are pushing this desperate end run past the Supreme Court. Prayer for them is less a private act than a public show.

Never mind that Christ himself said, "When you pray, go into your room, close the door." The problem with obeying that injunction is that nobody gets to see how pious you are. Moreover, by keeping prayer private, you compromise your ability to set the standard, to impose conformity, to render invisible or intimidate the Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or Jew who might have the temerity to come out to a football game on "your" turf. Meaning a publicly funded sports field.

Unfortunately for those who consider the invisibility or intimidation of non-Christians a worthy goal, the United States is not ... the bleating of hard-core conservatives notwithstanding ... a "Christian nation." Christianity is the majority religion, yes, but this isn't a theocracy. It is, rather, a nation of laws, many of them written specifically to protect the despised minority from the tyrannical majority.

It's past time the prayer-in-public-schools folks understood that and abandoned a crusade that, even if it were somehow successful, would do nothing to advance the principles they profess to believe. I mean, what does their grass-roots campaign have to do with spreading the message of Christ?

More to the point, where's their grass-roots Christian campaign to open shelters for homeless families? Where are the Christian talk-show hosts leading the crusade to take hot meals and happiness to people with AIDS? Where's the pugnacious attitude when it comes time to push people to volunteer in rest homes, clean up a back alley or coach the neighborhood kids? I'm still waiting for a movement among the hard righters to do as Christ did ... set an example of sacrifice, selflessness, service.

Apparently, they have no time for stuff like that. Instead, they're going all out for the "right" to hear "The Lord's Prayer" spoken through tinny speakers at some high school football field.

You think they'll ever realize how silly that is? We can only pray.



Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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