Why has the U.S. Supreme Court declared it to be unconstitutional to have officials in public schools lead students in prayer?
One answer seems astonishingly clear to me: If teachers or administrators were (as they once were) allowed to do that, it would put the government on the side of one particular approach to religion. That's a violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution's First Amendment.
And yet a strong majority (above 70 percent) of Christians who identify themselves as evangelical favor just such school-led prayer. It's remarkable. And a new study shows that even though there is declining support for such prayers across many groups of Americans, the support for it among evangelicals remains steady.
A University of Nebraska-Lincoln press release describing the study by UNL sociologist Philip Schwadel quoted him this way:
“What we see in these results is that there’s a very clear, unwavering perspective in the evangelical community on the role of prayer in public life. While younger evangelicals seem to be more open to some issues, such as environmentalism, when it comes to key issues, they simply do not change across generations. There seem to be some bedrock issues they won’t budge on.”
Although there's something to be said for consistency, what I find so mystifying about all of this is that even though many of these same evangelicals are deeply skeptical about and even mistrusting of government, they seem willing to turn over to agents of the government oversight of the content of prayers to be said by their children.
It's like turning over display of Nativity Scenes or other religious symbols to the government for display on courthouse lawns.
I say let churches be in charge of the cross, the Nativity Scenes and prayer and let the government worry about display of the flag and such national symbols as the eagle.
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RESCUING CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
And speaking of schools, Catholic education in the U.S. is in crisis, this fascinating piece says. Indeed, the report should be alarming to Catholics. I'm a big fan of public schools and think they're foundational to the political and social health of our nation, but I recognize that parochial education has played an important part in the overall education picture in the U.S. And if one part of our educational mosaic is in trouble, the whole thing is.
* * *P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read it, click here.