By David Barton

Table of Contents

A Brief History of the Issue

The Means of Reinstating School Prayer

Choosing the Right Mechanism

Proposed Wordings

The Opposition: Commonly Heard Objections

What Now? How to Proceed


A Brief History of the Issue

School prayer first became a topic of hot public debate following the 1962 Engel v. Vitale 1 ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court began an unprecedented assault on the traditional practice of invoking God's blessing on the school day.    The public was so disgruntled following the Engel decision that Congress convened extensive hearings exploring ways to restore school prayer and to halt any encroachment on other religious liberties. Those hearings marked the birth of an organized movement to reinstate school prayer.

 In the more than three decades since the Engel case, additional rulings from courts at all levels have encroached on prayers in many public settings, including graduation ceremonies, school board and city council meetings, courtrooms, legislatures, etc. During that time, the impetus to restore school prayer has steadily grown and has had several champions ranging from individual citizens to Presidents of the United States.

 In the early years of the movement, it was widely believed that no constitutional amendment was needed since many doubted whether the Court †† would make any additional rulings such as those of 1962-63. However, that belief proved to be optimistic; additional religions-restrictive rulings were delivered. Consequently, the sentiment became widespread that the only way to halt further rulings was through an amendment.

 Yet until recently, there were not enough Congressmen willing to promote such and amendment. Now, with the change in Congress following the 1994 elections, there is a new positive feeling about this issue. In fact, current Congressional leadership is pursuing the introduction, passage, and ratification of a constitutional amendment to safeguard religious liberties.

The Means of Reinstating Voluntary School Prayer

While many believe an amendment is the best solution for restoring prayer, others ate not convinced and ate therefore reluctant to support this approach. They are especially reticent to "tamper" with the Constitution through the addition of an amendment since they believe that the problem is with the Court's interpretation and not with the actual Constitution. Therefore, the question often arises, "Is there any other way to restore school prayer?" The answer is, "Yes." In fact, there are four separate means by which prayer can be restored.

1. School prayer can be reinstated through the Court's reversal of its own decisions.

Over recent decades, the Court has shown its willingness to reverse its previous rulings--although such reversals occurred only after Justices were replaced with those holding different opinions. Consequently, the Court's self-reversal of its previous rulings is a very slow and laborious process requiring years and often spanning the tenures of several different Presidents. Nonetheless, with more Justices holding the basic historical approach to religious liberties currently embraced by Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas, the Court's previous decisions can be overturned, this returning voluntary school prayer. However, of the four potential solutions, this is the slowest; and there is also no guarantee that a sufficient number of such Justices will ever be appointed. Furthermore, individual Justices can be highly unpredictable.

For example, in Allegheny v. ACLU, 2 Justice Kennedy strongly supported religious expressions by relying heavily on historical precedent; however, only three years later in Lee v. Weisman, 3 he opposed religious expressions and based his opinion on what Justice Scalia described as logic that was "conspicuously bereft of any reference to history" 4 (emphasis added). Waiting for a reinstatement of prayer from an internal change in the Supreme Court is the most uncertain approach.

2. School prayer can be reinstated by limiting the Court's appellate jurisdiction.

The question of appellate jurisdiction--that is, the Court's ability to hear an issue 5 --is outlined in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states:

The Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact. with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.

This provision is termed the "exceptions clause" and allows Congress to pass laws which simply removed an area of jurisdiction from the Court--an action with historical precedent.

For example, prior to the Civil War, the Supreme Court demonstrated a strong propensity toward Southern pro-slavery beliefs in its ruling in Dred Scott v. Sanford. 6 Following the Civil War, Southern sympathizers wanted to halt Reconstruction policies and one applied to the Court in Ex parte McCardle. 7 When Congress suspected that the Court would rule in favor of the Southerners, it passed an Article III, Section 2 law which removed the Reconstruction issue from the Court's jurisdiction. 8 The Court subsequently dropped the case and withdrew itself from any further interference.

The "exceptions clause" has been similarly used on several other occasions throughout the years. In fact, in 1979, Senator Robert Byrd attempted to apply it to the issue of school prayer by introducing the following law:

A. The Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any case arising out of any state statute, ordinance, rule, regulation, or any portion thereof, or arising out of an act interpreting, applying, or enforcing a state statute, ordinance, rule, or regulation, which relates to voluntary prayers in public schools or public buildings.

B. The District Courts shall not have jurisdiction of any case of question which the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction to review under this act. 9

That proposed law did not pass, but had it done so, it would have effectively reinstated voluntary school prayer. However, this method would not remove the three decades of religion-hostile federal Supreme Court decisions which have become a part of the case-law precedent of the State courts.

3. School prayer can be reinstated if the current Tenth Amendment reinstatement movement is successful.

The Founding Fathers drafted the Bill of Rights (the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution) specifically to list the issues into which the federal, and only the federal government, could not intrude. Knowing that they could not list every important State right, the Founders protected all others through the Tenth Amendment by declaring:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The Tenth Amendment was the Founder's ultimate protection against the intrusion of the federal government into arenas which rightfully belonged under State and local control.

What types of issues did the Founders envision for State control? Perhaps the clearest and most succinct answer was provided by Thomas Jefferson--a leading proponent of the anti-federalist sentiments reflected in the bill of Rights. Jefferson explained:

I believe the States can best govern our home concerns and the general [federal] government our foreign ones. 10

Very simply, the federal government would be responsible for foreign affairs and the States for domestic affairs.

In the specific area of religious liberties, the First Amendment had already excluded that issue from the federal government; the Tenth Amendment was simply a further affirmation that this issue rightfully belonged to the States--a fact made clear by Thomas Jefferson on numerous occasions:

I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institution...or exercises...Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general [federal] government. It must then rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority. 11

No power over the freedom of religion...[is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution. 12

In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government. 13

The Founders had taken great pains to ensure that issues like that of school prayer would never appear in the federal courts. Yet their diligent plans were abrogated through what the Supreme Court terms "the selective incorporation of the Bill of Rights." By this Process, in a series of decisions over the last half-century, the Court has ruled that the Bill of Rights should limit not only the federal government, but also the States. (For a complete explanation, see Justice Douglas's dissenting opinion in Waltz v. Tax Commission, 1970. 14 ) The result has been the federalization of nearly all domestic issues by the Court--a prospect which the Founders had feared. It was Jefferson who warned:

[W]hen all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another. 15

I wish, therefore...never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold as at market. 16

With the Court having effectively emasculated the Tenth Amendment, the States have become victims of federal micro-management--including the area of religious expressions.

The State's frustration over their loss of Constitution rights has recently led to a very strong and well-organized legislative movement to reinstate the original intentions of the Founders. If this movement succeeds, then the issue of school prayer (and numerous other domestic issues) would be removed from federal jurisdiction and returned to State and local controls where it properly belongs. However, this method would not remove the three decades of religion-hostile Supreme Court decisions which have become a part of the case-law precedent of the federal courts.

4. School prayer can be reinstated through a Constitutional Amendment.

This process has occurred 17 times since the ratification of the original Bill of Rights, the most recent being in 1992 with the passage of the 27th Amendment (dealing with pay raises for U.S. Congressman). The amendment process is described in Article V of the Constitution:

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.

This procedure is difficult for several reasons. First, the veneration of the Constitution is so great, and the approach to that document so somber, that most citizens oppose either frequent or trivial amendments. Second, since an amendment requires a two-thirds vote of Congress rather than a simple majority, and since three-fourths of the state legislatures must ratify any amendment, there must be widespread sentiment among the citizenry on the subject in question. Third, because the time between the introduction of an amendment and its ratification often spans years, the public opinion must be strong enough to maintain support for the duration.

Choosing the Right Mechanism

There are strengths and weaknesses inherent to each of the four methods listed above. However, the first (waiting for a sufficient number of conservative Justices to arrive on the Court) is unquestionably the weakest. Therefore of the remaining three, which is preferable?

While all offer promise, the only means which both corrects the current situation and also forever neutralizes the religion-hostile decisions delivered by the Court over the past three decades is a constitutional amendment. Only a constitutional amendment can completely prevent past decisions (i.e., case law) from ever again being invoked by any judge at any level in any future case.

To understand the importance of removing bad precedent from the Court's case law, consider the Dred Scott decision mentioned earlier. In that decision, the Court ruled that Blacks were property, not persons, and that Congress could not prohibit the extension of slavery into now territories. Much of the nation was highly outraged over that decision, but the actions of both the congress and the President served to reverse to. On June 9, 1862, Congress passed a law prohibiting slavery in the federal territories 17 (something in defiance of the Court ruling), and then President Lincoln issued the "Emancipation Proclamation" 18 declaring freedom for slaves in the Southern States. Yet it was not those acts which forever silenced the Dred Scott decision, nor, for that matter, was that decision ever overturned by any subsequent Supreme Court.

The single reason that the Dred Scott decision became totally null and void for all time was the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. That amendment not only completed the abolition of slavery in this country, it also wiped the Dred Scott decision off the books in a legal sense so that it could never again be invoked by any court.

This, then, is what elevates a school prayer amendment above the other methods; it alone can remove thirty years of bad precedent--something neither a return to the Tenth Amendment nor an "exceptions clause" law were passed by Congress to reinstate school prayer, history has proven that the Court will slowly but surely worm its way back into that arena. As Jefferson observed:

[T]he federal judiciary [is]...working like gravity by night and by day, Gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States and the government of all be consolidated into one [i.e., federalization]. 19

In summary, if the goal is only to impact the present, then voluntary school prayer can be effectively reinstated by three methods: limiting appellate jurisdiction, restoring State rights, passing a constitutional amendment. However, only the amendment option provides their best safeguard for the future by removing the effects of a generation of judicial activism from both the federal and State courts.

How Broad the Protection?

If an amendment offers such possibilities, then why limit it to school prayer? Why not broaden it to include protection for other religious expressions? For example, most Americans believe in allowing public displays of the Ten Commandments, nativity scenes, historical religious artwork, crosses in a cemetery, etc.; yet in each of these circumstances, courts have struck down such displays. In fact, consider the following example of how religious liberties have been denied by courts in their various jurisdictions:

  • Freedoms of speech and press are guaranteed to students--unless the topic is religious, at which time such speech becomes unconstitutional. STEIN v. OSHINSKI, 1965 20 ; COLLINS v. CHANDLER UNIFIED SCHOOL DIST., 1981 21
  • It is unconstitutional for students to wee the Ten Commandments since they might read, meditate upon, respect, or obey them. STONE v. GRAHAM, 1980 22 ; RING v. GRAND FORKS PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST.,1980 23 ; LANNER v. WIMMER, 1981 24
  • It is unconstitutional for a war memorial to be erected in the shape of a cross. LOWE V. CITY OF EUGENE, 1969 25
  • Despite the fact that the Ten Commandments are the basis of civil law and are depicted in engraved stone in the U.S. Supreme Court, it is unconstitutional for a public courthouse to display them. HARVEY v. COBB COUNTY, 1993 26
  • It is unconstitutional for a public cemetery to have a planter in the shape of a cross, for if someone were to view that cross, it could cause "emotional distress" and thus constitute an "injury-in-fact." WARSAW V. TEHACHAPI, 1990 27
  • A moment of silence designated for silent prayer at school is unconstitutional. WALLACE V. JAFFREE, 1985 28
  • It is unconstitutional for a classroom library to contain books which deal with Christianity, or for a teacher to be seen with a personal copy of the Bible at school. ROBERTS V. MADIGAN, 1990 29
  • Artwork may not be displayed in schools if it depicts something religious--even if that artwork is considered an historical classic. WASHEGESIC V. BLOOMINGDALE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, 1993 30
  • It is unconstitutional for a nativity scene to be displayed on public property unless surrounded by sufficient secular displays to prevent it from appearing religious. COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY V. ACLU, 1989 31

Numerous other absurd examples of religious discrimination abound, all of then stemmed from the religion-hostile atmosphere created by many courts. Notice:

  • Because a prosecuting attorney mentioned seven words from the Bible in the courtroom, a statement which lasted less than five seconds, a jury sentence was overturned for a man convicted of brutally clubbing to death a 71-year-old woman. 32
  • A high ranking official from the national drug czar's office who regularly conducts public school anti-drug rallies was prohibited from doing so in Nacogdoches, Texas, because the federal judge pointed out that even though the speaker was an anti-drug expert, he was also known as a Christian minister and thus was disqualified from delivered a secular anti-drug message. 33
  • In the Alaska public schools, students were prohibited from using the word "Christmas" at school, from exchanging Christmas cards of presents, or from displaying anything with the word "Christmas" on it because the word "Christ" was contained in"Christmas." 34
  • Although states print hundreds of thousands of custom license plates purchased and ordered by individual citizens, Oregon refused to print "PRAY," Virginia refused to print "GOD 4 US," and Utah refused to print "THANK GOD," claiming that such customized license plates violated the Constitution. 35
  • In DeFuniak Spings, Florida, a judge ordered the courthouse copy of the Ten commandments to be covered during a murder trial for fear tat jurors would be prejudiced against the defendant if the saw the commands "Do not kill." 36
  • In Omaha, Nebraska, a student was prohibited form reading his Bible silently during free time, or even to open his Bible at school, and was told to do so was "against the law." 37

These examples (representative of numerous others) illustrate why many want protection for more than school prayer. And given the general reticence of most to "tamper" with the Constitution, it is unlikely that two separate amendments would ever be passed (one on school prayer and one on public religious expressions). Therefore, should the amendment be broadened?

In a political sense, expanding an issue through attachments often increases the opposition, of broader language offers opponents more issues about which they may complain. However, it is also true that attaching additional items broadens the appeals by securing the support of groups interested in the add-ons. Therefore, the question is, "Will broadening the amendment attract more support than opposition?"

This political consideration will certainly affect the planning on the breadth of the amendment. The strategy ultimately is to get as much as possible without losing it all because of trying to get too much; and while it is usually difficult to discern just when that line is crossed, the decision must be made. However, as now proposed, the amendment will protect more than school prayer.

The Wording

What should be the wording for and amendment? Three decades ago which the Judiciary Committees held their hearings, these two proposed wordings emerged:

Nothing in any article or amendment to the Constitution of the Untied States shall be deemed to prohibit the offering or any prayer or any other recognition of God in connection with any activity in a public school or other public place. 38 H.J. RES 692

Nothing in this Constitution shall be deemed to prohibit the offering, reading from, or listening to prayer or biblical scriptures, if participation therein is on a voluntary basis, in any government or public school, institution, or place.

Nothing in this Constitution shall be deemed to prohibit making reference to belief in, reliance upon, or invoking the aid of God or a Supreme Being in any governmental or public document, proceeding, activity, ceremony, school, institution, or place, or upon any coinage, currency, or obligation of the United States.

Nothing in this article shall constitute an establishment of religion. 39 H.J. RES 693

Interestingly, these proposals appear as if they were drafted only months ago rather than decades ago; it is obvious that even then, there were debates over the breadth of an amendment.

While these proposals are not necessarily outdated, they will not provide the basis for the current wording. In fact, from among the scores of diverse religious-liberty advocacy groups, nearly a dozen different wordings have already been suggested, and several Congressmen will also offer their own proposals. Below are a few of the proposals under consideration:

Nothing in this constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be required by the United States or by any state to participate in prayer Neither the United States nor any state shall compose the words of any prayer to be said in public schools. 40

Section 1. Neither the Untied States nor any State shall abridge the freedom of any person or group, including students in public schools, to engage in prayer or other religious expression in circumstances in which expression of a non-religious character would be permitted; not deny benefits to or otherwise discriminate against any person or group on account of the religious character of their speech, ideas, motivations or identity.

Section 2. Nothing in the Constitution shall be construed to forbid the Untied States or nay Sates to give public or ceremonial acknowledgement to the religious heritage, beliefs, or traditions of its people.

Section 3. The exercise, by the people, of any freedoms under the first amendment or under this Amendment shall not constitute an establishment of religion. 41

In order to secure the unalienable right of the people to acknowledge the Creator according to the dictates of conscience, neither the United States nor nay State shall abridge religious expression, including group or individual student prayer in public schools, in times, places, or manners in which non-religious expression is permitted, deny benefits nor otherwise discriminate on the basis of religious belief or speech, nor be forbidden under this Constitution to acknowledge the religious history, beliefs or traditions of its people. The exercise of any freedoms under this Amendment shall not constitute an establishment of religion. 42

These represent some of the concise and practical proposals. Many others offered by various grassroots organizations, although commendable of their goals, are for too broad and imprecise. The wording of the amendment must be so simple an succinct, so clear and unencumbered, that it can be understood by any average citizen, whether a student, a school official or a legislator. In other words, it must be a political document with legal ramification, rather than vice versa. This will preclude the necessity of filing numerous lawsuits whereby it falls on the Courts to "clarify" the amendment's purpose and define what is and is not appropriate religious expression.

The Judiciary Committees will take all of the proposals, hold numerous public hearings, and then assimilate the information into the Committee's recommended wording. That proposal will then receive additional refining and adjusting on the floors of the House and the Senate before facing a vote for final approval.

However, whatever the final wording may be, many believe that it should include three essential components; first, any prayers should be extemporaneous (that is, voluntarily composed by the person praying rather than being scripted in advance by an authority); second, the prayers--or any other religious expressions--must be voluntary and non-coercive; and third, the resolution of disputes over religious matters should be settled in the local or State rather than the federal jurisdiction.

The federal "one size fits all" approach has proven inadequate and the Courts should not be given an opportunity to continue it. America must escape from the situation described by Justice Jackson in McCollum v. Board of Education wherein the Supreme court has now assumed "the role of a super board of education of every school district in the nation." 43 Allowing the Supreme court to resolve questions of religious expressions in local communities and their schools accomplishes exactly what Justice Kennedy complained about in Allegheny v. ACLU when he charged that the Court now functions "as a national theology board." 44

The effect of the amendment should be to de-federalize the issue of religious liberties and restore to the people the power to make their own decisions regarding not only if, but also when or what type of religious activities should occur in their local community schools and public arenas. This will retain the principle expressed by Thomas Jefferson:

The will of the majority, the natural law of every society, is the only sure guardian of the rights of man. Perhaps even this may sometimes err, but its errors are honest, solitary, and short-lived. 45

Officials in some local communities may act unwisely on this issue from time to time; however, if this occurs, there is a solution. As Founder John Randolph explained, "the proper restraint is in the people themselves, who at the ballot box could apply the Constitutional corrective." 46 However, if the judges act unwisely, the people have no recourse. Therefore, if there is to be a conflict between the will of the people and the will of the judges, let that of the people prevail. If the will of the judges prevail, then what Jefferson forewarned unfortunately becomes reality:

You seem . . .to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy [a small group of rulers]. 47

Ultimately, the purpose of the amendment, whatever its final wording, should be to exclude (as was originally intended) public religious expressions from the jurisdiction of the federal courts Recall Jefferson's words:

In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government. 48


The Opposition

In the current discussions surrounding the protection for various types of religious expressions, the single most controversial issue--that is, the one religious expression subjected to the greatest public debate--is that of school prayer. Interestingly, much of the opposition rhetoric against school prayer has emerged from within the Christian community. In this section, the most frequently raised objections against school prayer will be addressed--from a declaredly Christian perspective.

Objection #1. "I oppose school prayer because I don't want my children hearing a prayer of some other religion."

While this rhetoric is effective in its emotional appeal, there are at least five reasons why it is poorly grounded and should not be accepted by the Christian community.

1. To oppose school prayer in an attempt to prevent the prayers of other religions is actually to self-limit the effect of Christians. The notion that prayers from other religions might dominate any open forum is based largely on the assumption that there is a widespread religious pluralism in America; such is not the case. For example, consider the recent findings of the largest study on religious beliefs ever undertaken in America:

Most Asian-Americans are not Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus, but Christians [and m]ore than half the nation's 1.5 million Arab-Americans are Christians. . . . The. . .current survey is the broadest percentage point. It is higher for subgroups. For example, the researchers were able to project that there are 20,000 New Age adherents in the United States, but their percentage of the population is too small [approximately 1 our of every 1,3000 adults] to report reliably. . . . Only 2 percent refused to reveal their religious identification, and 7.5 percent said they had no religion. The survey found 86.5 percent of Americans identified with Christian denominations, including 26 percent said they were Jewish. One half percent of Americans were Muslims. (emphasis added) 49

Other studies confirm the same results. For example, according to the Yearbook of Canadian and American Churches, 50 there are currently 145.4 million members of religious groups in the United States--members representing every type of religion, both Christian and non-Christian:








Spiritualists, Ethical Culture Movement
Unitarian-Universalists, etc.



Jehovah's Witnesses






Eastern Religions






Roman Catholics










According to current statistics, of those associated with any type of religion--that is, of those individuals who might pray if given the opportunity--traditional Christians comprise the overwhelming majority: nearly 90 percent Furthermore, when including Jews (a Jewish prayer should elicit no objection from the Christian community), the percentage increases to almost 94 percent.

Therefore, since the proposed amendments provide for extemporaneous student prayer ( a student expressing his own prayer,), then to halt all prayers in order to prevent a Buddhist or other prayer from occurring is to keep nine Christians from praying in order to prevent one non-Christian prayer--reminiscent of the proverbial "throwing the baby out with the bath water."

The only format in which expressions from other religions should be a concern for Christians is if the equivalent of affirmative action in religion were instituted--that is, if religious quotas were established. For example, it would be unacceptable to say that because a school of 1,000 students has five different religions represented that the actual time (not the opportunity) for religious expression must be divided equally among all groups. That is, Buddhists could publicly practice their religious beliefs on Mondays; New Agers on Tuesdays; Christians on Wednesdays; Muslims on Thursdays; etc. Such, however, is not the case under any of the current proposals. Since each provides for extemporaneous prayer, then the prayers offered by any religion would be based solely on the number of adherents to that religion.

2. A school-prayer amendment will only level the playing field, thus elevating Christianity to the same status which is often accorded to other religions on a public school campus. This is needed because, as explained by Justice Kennedy:

 [T]he Supreme Court of the United States has concluded that the First Amendment creates classes of religions based on the relative numbers of their adherents. Those religions enjoying the largest following must be consigned to the status of least-favored faiths so as to avoid any possible risk of offending members of minority religions. 51

Justices Scalia, Rehnquist, White, and Thomas offered a similar analysis in Lee v. Weisman. 52

Currently, the smaller the group and the more non-orthodox its religious viewpoint, the more legal elevation it receives. There is much evidence that numerous religious belief systems are accorded a level of protection not extended to Christianity.

For example, the celebration of satanic activities and the pursuit of the occult unquestionably constitutes religious practices. (In some areas in the Northeast, those who give contributions to satanic groups get the same tax deductions as those who give to Christian churches. 53 ) Yet public schools often set aside a full day, or portions of several days, for students to celebrate and commemorate the occult and the satanic at school by dressing as demons or witches for Halloween and by creating artwork depicting the symbols of this religious system. However, those same schools frequently refuse to acknowledge national holidays by their Christian names of Christmas or Easter, but instead change the name to Winter or Spring Break. Furthermore, Christian artwork not only has been ordered out of schools, 54 but students are even censured for drawing art work depicting Christian symbols. 55

Although Native American religious beliefs and Buddhism are recognized religions, in Roberts v. Madigan 56 the court ruled that a classroom library could contain books on Native American and eastern religions, but must remove any books on Christianity.

In Allegheny v. ACLU, 57 the Court upheld the display of Jewish holiday symbols while striking down the display of Christian symbols.

A sex education/health textbook used in several states openly inculcates the New Age approach toward life and sexuality in the curriculum, yet the publishers refused to present or even acknowledge the Christian approach toward life and sexuality. 58

In U.S. v. Seeger, 59 the Supreme Court defined "religion" so broadly that now non-religion, secularism, humanism, and numerous other belief structures are considered religions, and the beliefs of these groups frequently receive a treatment preferential to that of Christianity. For example, in Harris v. Joint School District, 60 a court ruled that there could be no prayers of any kind nor any mention of a deity at school functions (thereby protecting the beliefs of atheism and secular humanism); and in Jane Doe v. Santa Fe Independent School District, a court issued a ruling that students may pray to a general impersonal deity during graduation ceremonies, but warned that any student who mentioned the word "Jesus" would be arrested by a federal marshal and placed in jail for a term of six months 61 (thereby protecting the belief in an impersonal god embraced by deism and agnosticism, while prosecuting for Christian beliefs).

Further examples could be cited which demonstrate that Christianity does not receive the same legal protection bestowed on other religions. Consequently, those who believe that they will be protecting their children from other religions by opposing school prayer are uninformed on what is currently occurring in the courts and schools. The school prayer amendment would only level the playing field, giving Christianity the same opportunities already enjoyed by many other religious belief systems.

3. To oppose prayer for fear that another religion might pray is to imply that the other religion is more powerful than Christianity. Christians need to recall the Biblical principle presented in 1 Kings 18. During the conflict between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Elijah challenged the people to determine who was "God" --to decide which "God" had the greatest power--and then to follow Him whole heartedly. In fact, Elijah even offered the prophets of Baal more time to pray; he was not worries so long as he got his opportunity to pray; he knew what would he prayed to his God. If Christians feat the power of other religions over the power of their own, then they need to re-examine their faith. From the Christian viewpoint, the other religions should be "trembling in their boots" at the prospect that Christians might have the opportunity to pray, not vice versa.

However, beyond the theological aspect just noted, there is yet another consideration. As explained by Founder DeWitt Clinton ††† :

Christianity may be contemplated in two important aspects. First, in reference to its influence on this world; and secondly, in reference to our destiny in the world to come. 62

Although the spiritual considerations "in reference to our destiny in the world to come" are vital, the societal benefits and influence on this world" which proceed from public religious acknowledgments like prayer should not be ignored, God example, Benjamin Rush, †††† one of the strongest and most evangelical Christians among the Founding Fathers, felt it imperative that all students in school have opportunity to know that there is a God. He explained:

Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament. 63

From a theological standpoint, Benjamin Rush preferred Christianity; but from societal considerations, he believed that it was better for students to be taught any religion than no religion--and logically so, for the behavioral aspects of most major religions are similar (e.g., don't murder, don't steal don't lie, one is responsible for the consequences arising from his personal behavior, etc.). The societal benefits arising from student exposure to religious teachings are not inconsequential.

4. From a Biblical perspective, it is difficult to find grounds to oppose any opportunity for students to acknowledge God publicly. For example, Proverbs 3:5-6 commands that in all our ways we are to acknowledge Him. Furthermore, Psalm 79:6 and Jeremiah 10:25 call for God's wrath upon all nations which do not call upon His name, and Matthew 10:32 and Luke 12:8 clearly present the blessings of acknowledging Him in public. Numerous other verses could be cited, but the Biblical message is both clear and consistent: God Himself believes that it is important to acknowledge Him publicly.

So clear was this Biblical teaching that our own Founding Fathers frequently declared its importance. For example (emphasis added in each quote):

  • [I]t is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor. 64 PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON, 1789
  • [W]e ought to be led by religious feelings of gratitude; and to walk before Him in all humility, according to His most Holy Law . . .[and] humbly supplicate our Heavenly Father to grant us the aids of His grace . . . and vouchsafe His smiles upon our temporal concerns. 65 GOVERNOR SAMUEL ADAMS, 1795
  • The goodness of the Supreme Being to all His rational creatures demands their acknowledgments of gratitude and love; His absolute government of the world dictates that it is the interest of every nation and people ardently to supplicate His favor and implore His protection. 66 GOVERNOR JOHN HANCOCK, 1782
  • To a people who believe the superintending Providence of the Divine Being over all human affairs, that even a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His permission, it will not be unexpected that their civil rulers should call upon them . . . to seek the Divine protection and assistance. 67 MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNING COUNCIL, 1780
  • It being our incumbent duty to acknowledge God in all our ways and to commit all our affairs, both public and private, to all His all wise direction and guidance. 68 [GOVERNOR] JAMES BOWDOIN, 1776
  • [I]t is our indispensable duty to implore the blessing of Heaven upon all occasions. 69 GOVERNOR JOHN WENTWORTH, 1775

The Scriptures teach the importance of the public acknowledgment of His principles, and our own history confirms our understanding of this truth.

On what Biblical basis, then, can a Christian attempt to limit the public arenas in which God may be acknowledged? Since Proverb 14:34 declares, "Righteousness exalteth a nation," and Psalm 33:12 similarly proclaims, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord," then Christians should seek to extend and expand, not lessen or narrow, the opportunity for the public acknowledgment of God.

5. Finally, to oppose school prayer for fear of another religion is to ignore the fact that other religions already receive protection for their religious expressions under the guarantee of "free speech"--a protection less often extended to Christian religious expressions. Furthermore, the fear that other not grounded in legal realities; while numerous lawsuits involving other religions do exist, rarely do they involve prayer. In fact, examinations of scores of lawsuits other religions do exist, rarely do they involve prayer. In fact, examination of scores of lawsuits reveal that it is Christians, not other religious adherents, who tend to get into legal "hot water" because of their desire to pray.

Since opposing school prayer will not significantly limit (if at all) the opportunity of other religions to express their beliefs on a public school campus, and since lawsuits indicate that Christians are usually the only ones being denied the opportunity to pray in public, why should Christians voluntarily assist the effort to restrict their own rights by opposing an amendment?

Objection #2: "An amendment is not needed since the Court never prohibited voluntary prayer."

While this objection is often raised, it is incorrect. It was the Supreme court itself which in Engel v. Vitale explained that:

Neither the fact that the prayer may be denominationally neutral nor the fact that its observance on the part of the students is voluntary can serve free it from the limitations of the [First Amendment]. . . . [It] ignores the essential nature of the program's constitutional defects. . . . Prayer in its public school system breaches the constitutional wall of separation between Church and State. 70 (emphasis added)

The real issue in that original prayer case was not the state-mandated coercion argument so often recited by today's revisionist reviewers; rather, it was--as the Court itself openly declared--simply the presence of "prayer in [the] public school system."

Additional proof of this is found in the manner in which the Engel case has been invoked in subsequent years. If the impact of this ruling had been only to stop state-approved, state mandated, supposedly, coercive prayers while still allowing voluntary prayers, then Engel would have been cited in no subsequent ruling, for there have been no further cases involving those circumstances. Yet even a cursory perusal of court rulings over recent decades reveals that this has not been the case; Engel has been cited in virtually every prayer case, regardless of its dissimilarity to the original case.

For example, the courts relied on Engel when striking down adult-led graduation invocations and benedictions in Lee v. Weisman and student-led prayer in Harris v. Joint School District 71 ; when striking down voluntary silent prayer in Wallace v. Jaffree 72 ; when striking down team athletic prayers in Doe v. Duncanville Independent School District 73 ; when striking down equal-access invocations before football games in Jager v. Douglas 74 ; and in numbers of other prayer cases. Very simply, the usage of the Engel case confirms that the original decision was an attack on any type of prayers in school.

Furthermore, not only have the courts regularly attacked voluntary prayer, but in their remaking of the First Amendment over recent decades, the Court has applied for different standards: the "establishment test" (1947); the "lemon test" (1971) under which a public religious activity must have a predominately secular purpose; the "endorsement test" (1985); and the "psychological coercion test: (1992). Each succeeding test was less tolerant of public religious expressions than the previous one. Observing the court's involving standards and varying tests, one is reminded of Thomas Jefferson's warning:

The Constitution . . . is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary which they may twist and shape into any form they please. 75

The simple fact in practice is that the Supreme Court did rule against voluntary prayer; it is for his reason that relief is being sought.

Objection #3. "Prayer should be done in private, in the 'closet', not in public. If there is to be any change in current policies, let it be to allow silent--not verbal--prayer or meditation."

This argument is invoked by both Christians and non-Christians in reference to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6:6: "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."

If this were the only passage in the Bible regarding prayer, then this argument might have merit. However, the narrow interpretation of private-prayer-only is supported neither by other Scriptures nor by the life of Jesus. While Jesus Himself did practice private prayer (e.g., Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Matthew 14:23, etc.), it is also clear that He and His followers practiced public prayer and make wherever they went a place for prayer. Notice a few such examples which undermine the private-prayer-only argument:

  • On numerous occasions, Jesus prayed aloud in public with and in from of a large group. See, for example, MARK 6:41, MATTHEW 14:19, LUKE 9:16, MARK 8:6-7, MATTHEW 15:36, JOHN 6:11,23.
  • Jesus prayed for and blessed children in public. MARK 10:16, MATTHEW 19:13.
  • Jesus prayed for and blessed children in public. LUKE 3:21.
  • Jesus prayed with a large group on top of a mountain. LUKE 24:50,51
  • Stephen prayed before a public crowd. ACTS 7:59
  • Peter prayed on an open, exposed city roof. ACTS 10:9.
  • Paul and Silas prayed aloud in front of onlookers. ACTS 21:5.
  • Paul prayed on a public beach to a large crowd. ACTS 27:29,35.
  • Paul prayed with a group on a public road. ACTS 28:15.

Even Justice Scalia, Rehnquist, White, and Thomas recognized that private-only religious practice was inconsistent with American religious tradition. They explained:

Church and state would not be such a difficult subject if religion were, as the Court apparently thinks it to be, some purely personal avocation that can be indulged entirely in secret, like pornography, in the privacy of one's room. For most believers it is not that, and has never been. Religious men and women of almost all denominations have felt it necessary to acknowledge and beseech the blessing of God as a people, and not just as individuals, because they believe in the "protection of divine Providence," as the Declaration of Independence put it, not just of individuals but for societies; because they believe God to be, as Washington's first Thanksgiving Proclamation put it, the "Great Lord and Ruler of Nations." One can believe in the effectiveness of such public worship, or one can deprecate and deride it. but the long-standing American tradition of prayer at official ceremonies displays what unmistakable clarity that the Establishment Clause does not forbid the government to accommodate it. 76

Jesus' admonition to pray privately was neither an exclusive order nor was it His only word on prayer. He and His early followers openly and frequently prayed in public. Within Christian circles, this sets an example that believers are expected to follow (e.g., John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21; Philippians 4:9, etc).

Similarly, any proposal for a period of silent mediation only should be an equally unacceptable alternative form the Christian perspective. The principle of public, not just private acknowledgment, is a powerful principle and should be pursued; it has a clear effect on thinking and behavior.

For example, Romans 1:28-31 teaches that for those who "did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God," the result is a mind that invents ways of doing evil, disobeys parents, and becomes heartless and ruthless. Psalm 10:4,7-9, 13 teaches that he who "in his thoughts has no room for God," consequently believes that he will not account to God and thus there is no restraint on his behavior. Psalm 14:1 similarly teaches that when one "says in his heart, "There is no God,'" then good behavior diminishes and deeds become corrupt and vile. The Scriptures clearly teach that an awareness of God serves as a powerful societal deterrent against destructive behavior.

It is not surprising, then, that recognizing the important societal effect arising form publicly acknowledging God remained a part of our political understanding throughout our early history. For example, in 1798, John Adams explained:

[T]he safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend upon the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness cannot exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed. 77

Then in 1799, Adams similarly explained:

[N]o truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration, nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgment of the governing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributor of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities. 78

This truth was proclaimed not only by civic leaders like John Adams but also by religious leaders as well. For example, the Reverend Matthias Burnet made the same point in an 1803 sermon preached in the Connecticut Capitol Building before Governor Jonathan Trumbull and the Connecticut legislature--a sermon preached at their request. He explained:

Feeble. . .would be the best form of government . . .without a sense of religion and the terrors of the world to come . . .Banish a sense of religion and the terrors of the world to come from society and you . . . leave every man to do that which is right in his own eyes . . . [T]he man who . . . is not actuated by the fear and awe of [God] has in many cases no bond or restraint upon his conduct. 79

And in 1854, the House Judiciary Committee similarly declared:

Laws will not have permanence or power without the sanction of religious sentiment--without a firm belief that there is a Power above us that will reward out virtues and punish our vices. 80

Since the Scriptures make clear the societal benefits derived from the public acknowledgment of God (and our history demonstrates that we long understood this principle), what can be gained from the current policy of an academic denial-in-practice of the existence of god by refusing to allow the public, open acknowledgment of Him?

Objection #4. "The public schools are no place for religious expression if students desire such expressions, let them attend a private school."

Interestingly, the argument that public schools are not the proper location in which to acknowledge God is not new. In 1844, Daniel Webster confronted the same objection during his arguments in the case Vidal v. Girard's Executors. 81 Webster explained why religious exercises should occur at government-assisted schools and not just private ones:

When little children were brought into the presence of the Son of God, his Disciples proposed to send them away; but he said, "Suffer [permit] little children to come unto me." And that injunction is of perpetual obligation. It addresses itself today. . . . [and] is of force everywhere, and at all times. It extends to the ends of the earth, it will reach to the end of time, always and everywhere sounding in the ears of men, with an emphasis which no repetition can weaken, and with an authority which nothing can supersede--"Suffer [permit] little children to come unto me." . . . It will, therefore, soothe the heart of no Christian parent . . . that [his children] may be . . . excluded from all the means of religious instruction afforded to other children [in private schools], and shut up through the most interesting period of their lives in a [school] without religion. 82

The same private-school argument was also raised three decades ago in Abington v. Schempp. At that time, Justice Potter Stewart explained why sending students to private schools to accommodate their desires for religious expression was not a viable constitutional solution:

It might be argued here that parents who wanted their children to be exposed to religious influences in school could . . . send their children to private or parochial schools. But the consideration which renders this contention too facile to be determinative [too weak to be seriously considered] has already been recognized by religion are available to all, not merely to these who can pay their own way." Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U. S. 105, 111. It might also be argued that parents who want their children exposed to religious influences can adequately fulfill that wish off school property and outside school time. With all its surface persuasiveness, however, this argument seriously misconceives the basic constitutional justification for permitting the exercises at issue in these cases. For a compulsory state educational system so structures a child's life that if religious exercises are held to be an impermissible activity in schools, religion is placed at an artificial and state-created disadvantage. Viewed in this light, permission of such exercises for those who want them is necessary if the schools are truly to be neutral in the matter of religion. And a refusal to permit religious exercises thus is seen, not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism.   83

Not only does government-mandated compulsory education make sending students to private schools an illogical argument, such an argument would also economically penalize those parents who make that choice. Although still required to pay public school taxes, those parents would forfeit all potential services their children might receive from those taxes and then they would have to pay additional funds (private school tuition) simply to allow their children to publicly acknowledge God. Sending children to private schools simply to accommodate their desire for religious expression economically defeats what is described as the free exercise of religion. As the Court itself had earlier noted, "Freedom of religion [is] available to all, not merely those who can pay their own way." 84

Objection #5. "Public prayer is too divisive; it should be left alone."

Over 200 years ago, this same argument was raised on the morning of September 7, 1774--America's first-ever fathering of Congress. Notice John Adams' description to his wife Abigail of the occasion when that argument was invoked:

When the Congress first met, Mr. [Thomas] Cushing made a motion that it should be opened with prayer. It was opposed by Mr. [John] Jay of Now York and Mr. [Edward of John] Rutledge of South Carolina because we were so divided in religious sentiments, some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists, that we could not join in the same act of worship. 85

In theory, it appeared that public prayer would be divisive; yet, as confirmed by the remainder of John Adams' letter, the theory was disproved when the practice became reality:

Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said he was no bigot, and could hear a prayer from a gentleman of piety and virtue. . . . Accordingly, next morning. . . . Mr. [Rev.] Duche . . . struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced. . . . It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here. 86

Daniel Webster, in arguments before the U. S. Supreme Court, also reminded them of the uniting power of prayer experienced on that occasion:

At the meeting of the first Congress there was a doubt in the minds of many about the propriety of opening the session with prayer and the reason assigned was, as here, the great diversity of opinion and religious belief. Until at last Mr. Samuel Adams, with his gray hairs hanging about his shoulders, and with an impressive venerableness now seldom to be met with, . . . rose in that assembly, and with the air of a perfect Puritan said it did not become men professing to be Christian men, who had come together for solemn deliberation in the hour of their extremity, to say that there was so wide a difference in the religious belief that they could not, as one man, bow the knee in prayer to the Almighty whose advice and assistance they hoped to obtain . . . . And depend upon it, that where there is a spirit of Christianity, there is a spirit which rises above form, above ceremonies, independent of sect or creed, and the controversies of clashing doctrines. 87

The argument of the alleged divisiveness of school prayer was also raised in Lee v. Weisman (1992); notice the response of Justices Scalia, Rehnquist, White, and Thomas:

The founders of our Republic knew the fearsome potential of sectarian religious belief to generate civil dissension and civil strife. And they also knew that nothing, is so inclined to foster among religious believers of various faiths a toleration --no,and affection--for one another than voluntarily joining in prayer together, to God whom they all worship and seek . . . . The Baptist of Catholic who heard and joined in the simple and inspiring prayers of Rabbi Gutterman on this official and patriotic occasion was inoculated from religious bigotry and prejudice in a manner that cannot be replicated. To deprive out society of that important unifying mechanism . . . is as senseless in policy as it is unsupported in law. 88

In fact, when the Court struck down a statute allowing student prayer in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), Chief-Justice Burger complained that the Court was depriving society of the positive influence of toleration produced by prayer. He noted:

The [prayer] statute does not remotely threaten religious liberty; it affirmatively furthers the values of religious freedom and tolerance that the Establishment Clause was designed to protect. 89

As borne out by numerous public polls, prayer is a unifying force, not a divisive one. In fact, the support for public prayer has been growing over recent years as the public becomes even more unified on this issue.

For example, in 1985, sixty-nine percent of Americans supported school prayer; 90 by 1991, that number had increased to seventy-eight percent. 91 Similarly, in 1988, sixty-eight percent of Americans supported a constitutional amendment to reinstate school prayer; 92 by 1994, that number had risen to seventy-three percent. 93 In reality, the absence of school prayer is much more divisive to the public then its presence.

Objection #6. "The presence of school prayer might offend or cause someone to be uncomfortable; we need to protect the rights and feelings of every individual."

In other words, what if an atheist (or some other individual) should be offended by a prayer; that wouldn't be fair to him.

This argument is designed to appeal to or emotional sense of fairness rather than our broader sense of justice and propriety; it turns the focus away form what is best for society at large to what is best of single individuals. This argument needs to be reframed.

On every issue involving two differing viewpoints, there will be a winner and a loser. Recall Thomas Jefferson's measurement for determining the winner and the loser:

The will of the majority, the natural law of every society, is the only sure guardian of the rights of man. 94

This is the simple principle embodied in the Constitution which stipulates numbers such as a majority, two-thirds, and three-fourths preceding the enactment of a national policy. Under the constitution, the winner must never be the minority, and the loser must never be the majority. If a minority is allowed to dictate public policy, then America can be called neither a republic nor a democracy.

For example, if a vote in the Senate was 75 to 25, the 75 must be declared the winners and their position must prevail. If, of some season, the 25 were deemed the victors, it would never be tolerated under our Constitutional form of government.

On the issue of school prayer, there are only two possibilities: either there will be prayer in school, or there will be no prayer in school. There is no middle ground; the supported of only one position will prevail. Which position should prevail? The theoretical answer is obvious, but the actual answer is quite different.

In fact, after a review of the Supreme Court's decisions on prayer, the federal judge who originally presided over the Lee v. Weisman case concluded:

[T]he Constitution as the Supreme Court views it does not permit it [prayer].... Unfortunately, in this instance there is no satisfactory middle ground.... Those who are anti-prayer have thus been deemed the victors. 95 (emphasis added)

This is clear case of the minority prevailing over the wishes of the majority.

A common means by which the Supreme Court allows the minority to triumph was vividly illustrated in the Lee v. Weisman decision. When the Court struck down graduation prayers in that case, it did so on the basis of a new test it had originated; the "psychological coercion test." How does the Court's "psychological coercion test" work? Under this test, if a religious activity causes a single observer to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, then "psychological coercion" has occurred and hence that religious activity is unconstitutional. This test, although designed to protect single individuals, will regularly violate the rights of the majority.

I had been an early variant of that test which the court had invoked three decades earlier to strike down prayer and Bible reading in Abington v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett. The Court argued that even though the prayers and Scripture readings had been voluntary, a child might feel uncomfortable of embarrassed if he or she did not participate in them, or if, for example, he stepped outside the classroom during the reading or prayer. Yet consider the discriminatory manner in which the psychological coercion test has been applied over the past three decades.

Many Christian students are highly offended or embarrassed over, for example, the graphic nature of overly-discriptive sex education, safe-sex presentation, alternative-lifestyle teachings, Halloween activities, or New Age relaxation techniques in the classroom, etc.--all of which violate their religious beliefs. Yet when they report these feelings to school officials, they re told that they may opt-out of those parts of the classes or may go to study-hall during the offensive portions. Where is the concern for psychological coercion against Christian students? The current application of the psychological coercion test suggests that the rights of individuals are most often protected when they oppose traditional religious or conservative positions.

Furthermore, the good of society in general must not be comprised to protect the beliefs or practices of single individuals. Charles Hodge, a professor at Princeton University, explained this principle in these words:

If a man goes to China, he expects to find the government administered according to the religion of the country. If he goes to Turkey, he expects to find the Koran supreme and regulating all public action. If he goes to [America], he has no right to complain should he find the Bible in the ascendancy and exerting its benign influence not only on the people but also on the government.... [34] All are welcomed; all are admitted to equal rights and privileges All are allowed to acquire property and to vote in every election, made eligible to all offices and invested with equal influence in all public affairs. All are allowed to worship as they please or not to worship at all if they see fit. No man is required to profess any form of faith or to in any religious association. More than this cannot reasonably be demanded. More, however, is demanded. The infidel demands that the government should be conducted on the principle that Christianity is false. The atheist demands that it should be conducted on the assumption that there is no God, and the positivist on the principle that men are not free agents. The demands of those who require that religion... Should be ignored in out national, state, and municipal laws, are not only unreasonable, but they are in the highest degree unjust and tyrannical. 96

Until the past three decades, courts had long rejected the concept of single individuals or groups setting aside the will of the majority. Notice:

  • While our own free constitution secures liberty of conscience and freedom of religious worship to all, it is not necessary to maintain that any man should have the right publicly to vilify the religion of his neighbors and of the country; these two privileges are directly opposed. 97 UPDEGRAPH V. COMMONWEALTH
  • The free, equal, and undisturbed enjoyment of religious opinion, whatever it may be, and free and decent discussions on any religious subject, is granted and secured; but to revile [abuse] ... the religion professed by almost the whole community, is an abuse of that right. 98 PEOPLE V. RUGGLES
  • The invaluable privilege of the rights of conscience secured to us by the constitution of the commonwealth, was never intended to shelter those persons, who, out of mere caprice [impulse], would directly oppose those laws for the pleasure of showing their contempt and abhorrence of the religious opinions of the great mass of the citizens. 99 COMMONWEALTH V. WOLF
  • We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. . . .When the state encourages religious instruction of cooperates with religious authorities . . .it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may no. . . .would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. 100 ZORACH V. CLAUSON


Objection #7. "This amendment will mandate school prayer; it is wrong to force anyone to pray."

The school prayer amendment does not mandate school prayer and does not force anyone to pray; it only provides the opportunity for those who wish to pray too so. Perhaps Justice Potter Stewart offered the best explanation of why the current proposal cannot be construed as a mandatory or coercive exercise when he explained:

I cannot see how an "official religion: is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. . . .For we deal here no with the establishment of a state church, which would, of course, be constitutionally impermissible, but with whether school children who want to begin their day by joining in prayer must be prohibited from doing so. 101

It is against the fundamental tenet of American Christianity to force coercion of nay religious practice. It was to escape such coercion that so many of our ancestors originally came to America, and it was for this reason that the Founders guaranteed the free exercise of religion.

This proposed amendment is still within that original spirit; there is no proposed prayer amendment of the table which would in any manner mandate prayer. In fact, in many localities there may be no school prayer even after the amendment is passed; that will be the decision of those in that community. This amendment only allows the opportunity for prayer for those who wish it and neither mandates prayer no any type of prayer.

Now What?

The fate of a school prayer/religious liberties amendment rests in the hands of the Congress. Unfortunately, much of the national media, as well as many paid Washington lobbyists, have already begun to campaign against this issue. They warn the Congressmen, for example, that the feelings for school prayer are limited to the extreme religious right and that to be associated with the issue will hurt their reelection; or that school prayer is too politically divisive and should be left alone; or that to broach this issue is simply un-American since it would undermine the "constitutional" guarantee of separation of church and state; etc. This rhetoric is already flowing freely and is intended both to discourage and to intimidate the members of Congress on this issue.

Although many of the Congressmen, especially those in the new freshman class, are strongly committed to supporting a school prayer-religious liberties amendment, the inherent danger of being continually bombarded with the opposition rhetoric is that: "There is nothing so absurd but if you repeat it enough people will believe it." This is where grassroots help is so vital.

It will be important that the Congressmen hear from constituents both before and after the amendment is formally introduced. In fact, without the encouragement that comes before, the momentum may be lost and the entire issue could die behind the scenes. Congressmen, even those already committed to this issue, do need to hear from the supporters of an amendment; they need to be reminded that when three-fourths of the nation supports an issue, that such a quantity does not constitute the alleged radical fringe element as claimed by the national media.

In communicating with your Congressman, however, it is important that your contacts be personal. If an individual does not feel strongly enough about an issue to express himself in an original letter, then he/she receives little serious consideration (mass-produced mailings, form letters, or petitions usually go into the trash). A personal letter is effective, even a short one; here are a few suggestions to guide you:

  • Be personal in your letter; use the name of your Congressman (you can obtain his/her mane through the library, Chamber of Commerce, or other similar public service organizations).
  • Get to the point. Open with a short greeting, then explain why you are writing and what you would like he congressman to do; three of four short paragraphs are plenty.
  • Give practical, well-thought-out, logical reasons of your position and why you want him to take certain steps. Avoid Christian cliches or phrases, and don't get "preachy."
  • Don't threaten. Threats tend to bring out the stubborn side in most individuals.
  • Close with a statement of appreciation (for his/her service, his/her consideration of your request, etc.), and then ask him/her for a response to your letter.

The address for your federal Representative or Senator is:

Name of your Representative
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Name of your Senator
U.S. Senate Washington, DC 20510

If you decide to call instead of write, dial the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. When the operator answers, ask for your Senator of Representative by name. When that office answers, ask to speak to your Congressman. If he is available, often he will speak with you. If he is unavailable, simply express to his staff your concern or what you expect him to do concerning the school prayer/religious liberties issue. The staff will record your thoughts and will communicate them to the Congressman.

In addition to writing or calling, the Honorable Bill Dannemeyer (a member of the House of Representatives from 1979-1992) and I co-head and organization called "Americans for Voluntary School Prayer." Its purpose is to organize a group of about six voters in each Congressional district to personally seek an appointment with their representative in his/her home town office to discuss this important issue and to request that he/she become a co-sponsor of the proposed Constitutional Amendment. The half dozen people should ideally be a cross section of the community, all registered voters, and could include a teacher, a pastor, a businessman, a housewife , or any member of a profession. If you would like to be a part of this grassroots network, please contact:

1105 E. Commonwealth, Suite A
Fullerton, CA 92631
714-871-4221 (FAX)

Furthermore, since the opposition rhetoric has already mobilized, it is now vital that the supporters of the amendment begin broadly to publicize the support rhetoric by talking with friends and neighbors, writing letters to the editor, calling in to participate in local talk shows, etc. However, do not approach this issue in an uninformed or haphazard manner; study the arguments of the opposition; identify the statistics, facts and logic which refute their arguments; prepare yourself to argue the issue without being emotional (and thus often appearing illogical0; rely on well-thought-out and well-reasoned arguments. You can be effective in communicating an alternative view to that frequently presented in the national media.

The religious expression issue is far too important to die a slow and obscure political death; we should pursue the national policy articulated by Abraham Lincoln that:

It is the duty of nations to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scripture, and proven by all history that, "Those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord." 102 (emphasis added)

We must regain the conviction held by our Founders that Biblical principles--and thus the public acknowledgment of God--are vital to national success. As George Washington explained:

[T]he propitious [favorable] smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained. 103

Therefore, for the sake of this generation--as well as future ones--we should heed the advice of John Hancock:

I conjure [command] you, by all that is dear, by all that is honorable, by all that is sacred, not only that ye pray but that ye act.   104

The time to act is now!



†Some assert that the Engel decision never infringed on voluntary school prayer. This assertion will be examined in detail in a following section. (Return)

††A note about the difference in usage between "Court" and "court": "Court" (capital "C") refers to the Supreme Court of the United States, whereas "court" (lower-case "c") indicates any other court. Similarly, "Courts specifically refers to the decisions of collective U.S. Supreme Courts and "courts" refers to the judiciary in general. (Return)

†††Dewitt Clinton (1769-1828) was a United States Senator who introduced the Twelfth Amendment, the mayor of New York City, and the Governor of New York, a vice-president of the American Bible Society, and a member of numerous philanthropic organizations. (Return)

††††Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and member of the Continental Congress. Rush was an early proponent of the abolition of slavery, helped found several colleges, and was a leading medical doctor and lecturer of his day. He was also a founder of America's first Bible society as well as being involved in a number of philanthropic pursuits. (Return)

1. Engel v. Vitale; 370 U.S. 421 (1962). (Return)

2. County of Alleghey v. ACLU; 492 L. Ed. 2d 467 (1992). (Return)

3. Lee v. Weisman; 120 L.Ed. 2d 476 (1992). (Return)

4. Id. at 509 (1992), Scalia, J., dissenting. (Return)

5. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1868), Vol. I, p. 129, "Appellate Jurisdiction." (Return)

6. Dred Scott v. Sanford; 60 U.S. 393 (1857). (Return)

7. Ex Parte v. McCardle; 74 U.S. 506 (1869). (Return)

8. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court, Elder Witt, editor (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1979), pp. 667-668. (Return)

9. Proceedings and Debates of the 96th Congress, First Session. March 29, 1979 to April 9, 1979 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979), Vol. 125, Part 6, pp. 7630-7638. (Return)

10. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.:The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XVIII, p. 428, to the Rev. Samuel Miller on January 23, 1808. (Return)

11. Id. (Return)

12. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.:The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XVIII, p. xv. "Kentucky Resolutions." (Return)

13. Annals of the Congress of the United States, Eighth Congress-Second Session (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1852), p. 78. In his Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805. See also A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, James D. Richardson, editor (Published by Authority of Congress, 1899), Vol. I, p. 379. (Return)

14. Walz v. Tax Commission; 397 U.S. 664 (1970). (Return)

15. Id at 330, to Charles Hammond on August 18, 1821. (Return)

16. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XV, pp. 450-451, to Judge William Johnson on June 12, 1823. (Return)

17. The Congressional Globe, Containing the Debates and Proceedings of the Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress, John C. Rives, editor (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Globe Office, 1862), Vol. 32—Part 3. p. 2618. (Return)

18. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, James D. Richardson, editor (Published by Authority of Congress, 1899), Vol. VI, pp. 157-159, September 22, 1862. (Return)

19. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XV, pp. 331-332, to Charles Hammond on August 18, 1821. (Return)

20. Stein v. Oshinsky; 348 F. 2d 999 (2nd Cir. 1965), cert. denied, 382 U.S. 957. (Return)

21. Collins v. Chandler Unified School District; 644 F. 2d 759 (9th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 863. (Return)

22. Stone v. Graham; 449 U.S. 39 (1980). (Return)

23. Ring v. Grand Forks Public School District; 483 F. Supp. 272 (D.C.N.D. 1980). (Return)

24. Lanner v. Wimmer; 662 F. 2d 1349 (10th Cir.1981). (Return)

25. Lowe v. City of Eugene; 451 P. 2d 1349 (10th Cir 1981). (Return)

26. Harvey v. Cobb County; 811 F. Supp. 669 (N.D.Ga. 1993), affirmed, 15 F. 3d 1097 (11th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 114 S.Ct. 2138 (1994). (Return)

27. Warsaw v. Tehachapi; United State District Court, Eastern District of California; No. CV F-90-404 and CV F-90-404 EDP (1990). (Return)

28. Wallace v. Jaffree; 472 U.S. 38. (Return)

29. Roberts v. Madigan; 702 F. Supp. 1505 (D. Colo. 1989), 921 F. 2d 1047 (10th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 112 S. Ct. 3025; 120 L. Ed. 2d 896. (Return)

30.Washegesic v. Bloomingdale Public School; 813 F. Supp. 559 (WD MI, SD 1993), affirmed 33 F. 3d 679 (6th Cir. 1994); cert denied, 63 U.S.W.L. 3786 (May 1, 1995). (Return)

31. County of Allegheny v. ACLU; 492 L. Ed. 2d. 472. (Return)

32. Commonwealth v. Chambers; 599 A. 2d 630, 643-644 (Sup.Ct. Pa. 1991), cert denied, case no. 91-1597, May 26, 1992, petition for rehearing denied August 18, 1992. (Return)

33. Alexander v. Nacogdoches School District; United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Lufkin Division, Civil Action 9: 91CV144 (1991). (Return)

34. The New American, June 20, 1988, p. 19, "America Without God." (Return)

35. Gloria Iverson v. Forbes; 93-3-232 (Or.Cir.Ct., November 8, 1993); Terry Geidenbach v. Pethtel; 3:93CV632 (Eastern District of Virginia); Bebout v. Leimbaugh; 93-C-1079 J (C.D. Utah). (Return)

36. Olean Times Herald, Monday, April 6, 1992. See also State of Florida v. George T. Broxson; Case no. 90-0293-CF (1st Jud.Cir.Ct., Walton County, Fl., 1992). (Return)

37. Intercessors for America Newsletter, Feb. 1989, "Fifth Grader Sues for Right to Read Bible." (Return)

38. Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Eighty-eighth Congress, Second Session on Proposed Amendments to the Constitution Relating to Prayer and Bible Reading in the Public Schools (Printed for the Use of the Committee on the Judiciary, 1964), Part 1, p. 22. (Return)

39. Id. (Return)

40. Congressional Record (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994), Vol. 140, no. 144, p. H11200. 103rd Congress, 2nd Session, H.J. Resolution 424, October 7, 1994. (Return)

41. Los Angels Times, April 5, 1995, 'Christain Groups Craft 'Religious Equality Amendment,'" p. A13. (Return)

42. Proposed wording obtained from a U.S. Congressman/attorney working on this amendment. (Return)

43. McCollum v. Board of Education; 333 U.S.203, 237 (1948). (Return)

44. County of Allegheny v. ACLU; 492 L.Ed.2d 472, 550 (1989), Kennedy, J., concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part. (Return)

45. Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian P. Boyd, editor (NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961), Vol. XVI, p. 179, to the Citizens of Albemarle on February 12, 1790. (Return)

46. Albert J. Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1929), Vol. III, p. 85. (Return)

47. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol.XV, p. 277, to William Charles Jarvis on September 28, 1820. (Return)

48. Id. at Vol. XI, p. 428., to the Rev. Samuel Miller on January 23, 1808. (Return)

49. The Washington Times, April 11, 1991, "7 of 8 in U.S. Follow Christ," p. A3. Taken from the study by Barry A. Kosmin and Saymour P. Lachman, One Nation Under God: Religion in contemporary American Society (New York: Harmony books, 1994). (Return)

50. Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 1991, Constrant H. Jacquet, Jr. and Alice M. Jones, editors (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1991), p. 270. (Return)

51. County of Allegheny v. ACLU; 492 U.S. 472 549 (1989), Kennedy, J., dissenting. (Return)

52. Lee v. Weisman; 120 L.Ed. 2d 467, 518 (1992), Scalia, J., dissenting. (Return)

53. Reader's Digest, March 1991, p. 22. See also Newsweek, August 21, 1989. (Return)

54. Washegsic v. Bloomingdale Public Schools; 813 F. Supp. 559 (1993). (Return)

55. Grand Forks Herald, March 11., 1995, p. 1C, 3C. (Return)

56. Roberts v. Madigan; 921 F. 2d 1047 (10th Cir., 1990). (Return)

57. County of Allegheny v. ACLU; 492 U.S. 472 (1989). (Return)

58. Textbook Review: A Critical "Review of Five Health Textbooks Submitted to the Texas Board of Education, With an Emphasis on the Texas Administrative Code, the Texas Education Code, and the Proclamation Under Which the Books Were Submitted. Submitted by Bob Offut and Monte Hasie. Prepared by Diane Hensley, Jeff Fisher, and Stephanie Cecil. (Return)

59. United States v. Seeger; 380 U.S. 163 (1965). (Return)

60. Harris v. Joint School District; 41 F. 3d 447 (9th Cir., 1994). (Return)

61. Jane Doe v. Sante Fe Independent School District; United States District Court, Southern District of Texas, C.A. No. G-95-176 (1995). (Return)

62. William Campbell, The Life and Writings of DeWitt Clinton (New York: Baker and Scribner, 18490, p. 305., from an 1823 address to the American Bible Society. (Return)

63. Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical (Philadelphia: Thomas and William Bradford, 1806), p. 8, "On the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic." (Return)

64. George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, Jared Sparks, editor (Boston: Ferdinand Andrews, 1838), Vol. XII, p. 119, October 3, 1789. (Return)

65. Samuel Adams, A Proclamation for a Day of Public Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer (Printed at the State Press: Adams and Larkin, 1795). (Return)

66. John Hancock, A Proclamation For a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer (Boston, 1782). (Return)

67. Massachusetts Council, A Proclamation For a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer (Boston: 1780). (Return)

68. Massachusetts Council, A Proclamation For a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer (Watertown, Massachusetts, 1776). (Return)

69. John Wentworth, By the Governor, A Proclamation For a General Fast (Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1775). (Return)

70. Engel v. Vitale; 370 U.S. 421, 430 (1962). (Return)

71. Harris v. Joint School District; 994 F. 2d 160 (5th Cir. 1993). (Return)

72. Wallace v. Jaffree; 472 U.S. 38 (1985). (Return)

73. Doe v. Duncanville Independent School District; 994 F. 2d 160 (5th Cir. 1993). (Return)

74. Jager v. Douglas; 862 F. 2d 824 (11th Cir. 1989), cert denied, 490 U.S. 1090 (1989). (Return)

75. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol.XV, p. 213, to Judge Spencer Roane on September 6, 1819. (Return)

76. Lee v. Wiesman; 120 L.Ed. 2d 467, 518 (1992), Scalia, J., dissenting. (Return)

77. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, Editor (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1854), p.8. (Return)

78. Id. At Vol. IX, p. 172, March 6, 1799. (Return)

79. Matthias Burnet, An Election Sermon Preached at Hartford on the Day of the Anniversary Election, May 12, 1803 (Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1803), pp. 7, 9, 16, 27. (Return)

80. Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives Made During the First Session of the Thirty-Third Congress (Washington: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1854), p. 8. (Return)

81. Vidal v. Girard's Executors; 43 U.S. 126 (1844). (Return)

82. Daniel Webster, Mr. Webster's Speech in Defence of the Christian Ministry, and In Favor of the Religious Instruction of the Young (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1844), p. 27. (Return)

83. Abington V. Schempp; 374 U.S. 203, 312-313 (1963), Stewart, J., dissenting. (Return)

84. Id., quoting from Murdock v. Pennsylvania; 319 U.S. 105, 111. (Return)

85. John Adams, Abigail Adams, Letters of John Adams Addressed to His Wife, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841), Vol. I,pp. 23-24, to Abigail Adams on September 16, 1774. (Return)

86. Id. (Return)

87. Daniel Webster, Mr. Webster's Speech in Defence of the Christian Ministry, and In Favor of the Religious Instruction of the Young (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1844), p. 36. (Return)

88. Lee v. Wiesman; 120 L.Ed. 2d 467, 519 (1962), Scalia J., dissenting. (Return)

89. Wallace v. Jaffree; 472 U.S. 38, 189 (1985), Burger, C.J., dissenting. (Return)

90. Emerging Trends, February 1985. (Return)

91. Time, December 9, 1991, p. 64. (Return)

92. Emerging Trends, January 1988, p. 5. (Return)

93. CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, conducted November 28-29, 1994. (Return)

94. Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian P. Boyd, editor (NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961), Vol. XVI, p. 179, to the Citizens of Albemarle of February 12, 1790. (Return)

95. Weisman v. Lee; 728 F. Supp., 68, 75 (D.R.I. 1990). (Return)

96. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1975), Vol. III, pp. 344-346. Reprint of 1871 edition. (Return)

97. Updegraph v. The Commonwealth; 11 Serg. & R., 393, 407 (1824). (Return)

98. People v Ruggles; 8 Johns 545, 546 (1811). (Return)

99. Commonwealth v. Wolf; 3 Serg. & R. 48, 50 (Sup.Ct.Penn.1817). (Return)

100. Zorach v. Clauson; 343 U.S. 306, 312-314 (1952). (Return)

101. Engel v. Vitale; 370 U.S. 421, 445 (1962), Stewart, J., dissenting. (Return)

102. Id. at Vol. VI, p. 164, March 30, 1863. (Return)

103. The Daily Advertiser, May 1, 1789 (New York: Francis Childs, 1789), p.2. See also, American State Papers. Documents, Legislative, and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1833), Vol. I, p. 9. (Return)

104. John R. Musick, Great Americans of History: John Hancock (Chicago: Union School Furnishing Company, 1898), pp. 116-117. (Return)