The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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Prayer in Public Schools

Ferri's letter to the Editor is a response to a local school board's resolution to "urge" the return of voluntary school prayer in public schools. Ferri sees the Board's actions as an attack on religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment. --Editors.

Article by John L. Ferri. Printed in the Towanda Daily Review on 6/7/95

Prayer in Public Schools

(Printed in the Towanda Daily Review on 6/7/95.)

Editor: I have one word for the Bradford County Commissioners who voted for the recent resolution (Daily Review 6/2/95) urging the return of what they refer to as "voluntary" prayer in public schools -- arrogant. Have they suddenly been elevated to some omniscient level and now know the proper deity for all to worship?

School-sponsored prayer in public schools was wisely ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court (1962-Engel v. Vitale; and 1963-Abington Township School District v. Schempp.) The First and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the federal and state governments from mandating, recommending, denouncing, promoting, or interfering in any way with the religious or non-religious beliefs of the people. Our Founding Fathers not only gave us freedom of religion, they also gave us freedom from religion, if we so choose.

McNett's statement that, "we claim to be a Christian nation," in our Pledge of Allegiance, in the Declaration of Independence, and in the U.S. Constitution shows that he either hasn't read or doesn't understand these documents. The word "God" is mentioned once in our Pledge, and once in the Declaration. In the Constitution, the only mention of religion is in the First Amendment. The words "Christ" and "Christian" not only don't appear, there are no references to them in any of the above documents.

McNett's viewpoint is precisely why there should be no school-sponsored prayer. Whose prayer should be used? When one is selected, are others censured? If a non-denominational prayer or a denomination-of-the-day prayer is used, what about those who choose not to pray? Many people have secular beliefs, but even those who do believe in a supreme being may choose to pray in private.

Many will argue that we are a Christian nation because of the religious beliefs of the Framers of our Constitution. The 1963 Supreme Court decision stated that, "the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him...." But to avoid the repressive pressures of past governments, they specifically, intentionally, and deliberately did not include their religious beliefs in our laws.

The First Amendment was written to guarantee that the government could not force or influence its religious (or non-religious) beliefs on the people. The issue of school prayer is not one of religious freedom -- we already have that. It is one of coercion -- by those who would like to force their beliefs on others.

However, in the unlikely event that the First Amendment does get modified, and as the head of the Church of the Profit ("You give me money, I keep it"), I would like its denominational prayer used -- and the denomination is five dollars. Send it to the Cancer Foundation, the Heart Foundation, AIDS Research, or the charity of your choice. Let's exorcise some real demons for a change.

John L. Ferri
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