The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) issued a statement last week threatening Mississippi’s 151 school superintendents with a lawsuit if they allow prayer over the public address system during high school football games. This is not the first instance of FFRF dabbling in Mississippi; Jackson County School District and others can attest to that.
FFRF is an atheist, “educational,” non-profit organization based in Wisconsin whose stated goal stamped across the header of their website is “Protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.” The Foundation says that it is the “nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics and skeptics) with over 18,000 members.” The group’s website scrolls pictures such as a senior adult holding a T-shirt that proclaims, “This is what an atheist looks like,” and advertisements touting, “Come out of the closet – your God-less quote goes here,” encouraging supporters to place their picture and comment online.
Despite what FFRF promotes, the idea of separation of church and state is not found within the American Constitution. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the government from legislating an establishment of religion and protects the free exercise of religious expression from governmental obstruction.
The concept of separation of church and state originated in a letter sent from then President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut in 1802 when he wrote, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
The United States Supreme Court has since liberally used Jefferson’s phrase in an attempt to expound upon the meaning of the First Amendment. In 2000, the high Court ruled against pre-game prayers in the Santa Fe Independent School District. This is FFRF’s foundation. The Court ruled that, “Regardless of the listener’s support for, or objection to, the message, an objective Santa Fe High School student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable pregame prayer as stamped with her school’s seal of approval.” The dissenting opinion noted that the ruling “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.”
Never was there a law mandating that pre-game prayer take place nor was the participation required, thus not violating the Establishment Clause. It was a student-led, student-initiated endeavor that subsequently was also approved by a vote of the student body. Restricting the prayer did then infringe on the students’ free exercise of religion. But the Supreme Court relied on the perception of such public prayer to determine its ruling, rather than reality. The dissenters even opined, “The question is not whether the district’s policy may be applied in violation of the Establishment Clause, but whether it inevitably will be.”
While some in Mississippi would agree that events on school property should not be a place where a public prayer is permissible, I find it hard to believe that that is the opinion of a majority of citizens in the Magnolia State. I still believe that most citizens cherish every opportunity to recognize the power and importance of the Almighty in their lives and welcome the chance to publicly call for the protection of the hand of God, whether privately in their thoughts or publicly with their neighbours and acquaintances at a high school football game.
And while in our republic the minority should not be oppressed or seen as an oddity for expressing a difference of opinion, the majority still rules, albeit with a sympathetic ear to the minority. The majority should not bow down to the minority for fear of being seen as intolerant. FFRF and minority-opinion organizations like it often cry ‘tolerance’ even as they themselves are openly prejudiced as demonstrated by their own website.
For a non-profit to be so overtly brazen as to challenge Mississippi’s school districts in the political realm, FFRF’s tax deductible status should be reviewed to ensure that it complies with the Internal Revenue Service’s political and legislative (lobbying) restrictions. It is easy to conceive that their actions are at best riding the fence.
No, people do not need to pray in public for the Creator to hear their pleas. As a matter of fact, Scripture warns us to not be like the “hypocrites” when we pray “for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men” (Matthew 6:5, NIV). But public supplication and recognition of God is a core tenet of the Christian faith and is repeated time and again from Daniel to Jesus. The key to public prayer, as with private prayer, is the heart of the person. Public prayer should honor the Almighty and flow from an authentic yearning to engage God by the one offering the prayer, not to impress men, while leading others of like mind to share in the call.
I, for one, do not appreciate an organization outside of Mississippi with values so out of touch with a majority of our citizens coming to town trying to tell us how to run our communities. I still believe that we cherish God in our local communities and should have the right to express that conviction without being bullied by floundering, Wisconsin radicals.
I believe a stand is demanded by those who cherish the First Amendment, who support the freedom of religion, who believe God to be the center of our society, and who earnestly desire to see our community united in love for our fellow man and our Creator. Let us check our egos at the gate and raise our voices together and pray the Lord’s Prayer this Friday night as we take a stand for God, for our community and for the Constitution in stadiums across Mississippi.
The impetus is on us as individuals to take a principled stand. Organizations such as FFRF do not run our local communities and their beliefs do not rule our lives. If we as a community of faith stand up and push back together in unison, we can make a lasting difference, God will be glorified and our community will be strengthened.