Keep Them to Yourself
By Patrick F. Cannon
“Democracy, if I understand it at all, is a society in which the unbeliever feels undisturbed and at home. If there were only half a dozen unbelievers in America, their wellbeing would be a test for our democracy, their tranquility would be its proof.”
E. B. White, 1956, in Collected Essays
“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or prohibiting the freedom of speech, or of the press…”
First Amendment, US Constitution
On June 27, in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the US Supreme Court said it was OK for a public high school football coach to say a prayer of thanks after a game in the middle of a public-school football field. To be brief, the coach took to kneeling on the field to say his prayers, and was later joined by players from both teams. The school board, cognizant of the fact that prayer has long been banned in public schools, asked Kennedy to stop. He didn’t and was as good as fired, since his contract was not renewed.
He sued, saying his right to free speech was denied. If you’ll look at the part of the First Amendment quoted above, you’ll see there is a semi-colon between the religious establishment clause and that regarding freedom of speech. They are not the same thing, but the court seems to think they are. Just as they seem to forget to read the entire Second Amendment, emphasizing “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” and ignoring the real meaning of the opening clause “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” The clauses cannot be separated; they are part of the same sentence. Each was and is dependent on the other, as was intended by the framers.
A little background. The religious establishment clause is there because a significant percentage of the British settlers in what became the United States came here at least partially to escape a country that had an official religion (and still does), and required its citizens to financially support it whether they were members or not. And we no longer have militias in the form that existed in 1787, wherein local citizens banded together to serve the state when called upon, and armed themselves. They have now been replaced by the state National Guards, which supply any needed arms to its members.
While the six members of the Supreme Court who voted to let Kennedy and others say their prayers saw a distinction between this case and permitting prayers in classrooms, I see no essential difference. Kennedy was free to silently pray all he wanted, as long as he was not seen to be praying in public on public property. The claim that no one was forced to pray with him is ridiculous. We’re dealing with high school kids here. Did the six justices never hear of peer pressure? And, by the way, does Kennedy’s God care where he says his prayers? Does God give more attention to public prayer?
I should point out that five of the six justices who voted for Kennedy are Roman Catholics, and the sixth, Neil Gorsuch, was raised Catholic but now attends an Episcopal church. Do you really think it was a coincidence that the same six voted to overturn Roe v. Wade?
While I’m on my high horse, let me say I would also ban the prayers that often open public meetings, including Congress. Failing that, I would ask that an atheist be included in the rotation. How’s this for an invocation: “Don’t blame God. This mess is all your fault.”
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon
9 thoughts on “Keep Them to Yourself”
Thought it would be another football blah-blah-blah. But no, you changed the game. Good on you.
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When I played high school football, I often said a silent prayer that I’d survive! It didn’t work; I broke my leg and ankle anyway!
Congress cannot establish a religion (such as the Church of England), and it cannot pass laws prohibiting the free exercise of one (good news for Zoroastrians!). But this part of the amendment says nothing about the specific expression of religion, in places public or private. It does say, however, in the clauses following the semi-colon, that Congress cannot abridge expression spoken or written in the public domain (the press). Why would that exclude religious expression?
In the New York public schools I attended, both Christian and Jewish holidays were openly observed. Observance of these religions did not establish them, but it did acknowledge their free exercise. No one was “disturbed” by them. Personally, I learned about Jewish practices, what was kosher and why Jews covered their heads. Democracy in a pluralistic society illustrated.
It wasn’t until the “opiate of the people” crowd came to dominate and claim any government-controlled space as their domain to the exclusion of everyone else. For them, any expression of religion, even symbolic like a Christmas tree in City Hall, had to be banned under the rubric of separation of church and state. But the constitution does not mandate such separation (the term apparently occurs in a letter of Thomas Jefferson’s, in which he in fact affirms the state should stay out of religious matters); it clearly says the state cannot establish a religion and it cannot interfere in its free expression.
The misanthropic E.B.Whites of the world complain about everything. They want to be different but are intolerant of others who are different. And they like to assert their superiority by telling others what they can and cannot do. To them, diversity means conformity, conformity to their rules. Dare violate their rules and risk retribution.
I don’t pray at football games. In truth, I don’t pray at all. But the coach and his players who do publicly don’t force me to pray, and their prayers don’t bother me. Why would they?
But it seems to bother a lot of people these days, even to the point of Orwellian absurdity.
We know a Russian woman here whose Russian husband (they are immigrants) teaches economics at IU. In a class, he said something like “Use your common sense.” He was reported by a student for this and called to the Dean’s Office to explain why he said it. So it starts with religious expression, then migrates to identity and finally to anything that smacks of suspicion.
By the way, it’s interesting to know how many Supreme Court justices have Catholic background. It explains why they are well-versed in law. But isn’t suggesting their rulings are based on personal religious bias and not law, a Marxist, identity politics argument?
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I don’t agree. I see too many religionists trying to impose their morality — in Orwellian ways — on the rest of us. Best to leave it out of the public arena. This view has no relationship to the stupid wokeness academia is burdened with.
Everyone is entitled to opinions and I respect yours, though I’d question the legal reasoning. This country has more opinions than there are issues on which to have opinions about. And everyone is trying to impose values, moral and cultural, on everyone else.
On what basis should religious groups be excluded from the public area? Certainly not the Constitution, no matter how you parse the language. Because some progressive liberals don’t like them? Are they not American citizens who work, pay taxes and serve in the military? Why should they be pushed into the background and silenced? Really, why shouldn’t a coach with his team pray before a football game, without the threat of being fired? Your argument hearkens back to the days of Al Smith who was opposed because he was a Catholic (and half Italian to boot) and Protestants wildly imagined they would be ruled by the Pope in Rome.
As to “imposing morality – in Orwellian ways,” voters in different states are now deciding what laws should apply to abortions, as we saw recently in Kansas. If open and free voting through our messy participatory, democratic processes were Orwellian, we’d still have Prohibition. Good grief, what will voters approve next? Gay marriage? School vouchers?
No, I maintain we need to respect different views, especially where there is disagreement, and freely discuss them in open debate, without labeling or demonizing people. Otherwise, you don’t have a public arena, you have a restricted one ruled by certain people, a country governed by men, not laws.
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Of course, I agree with much of what you say. Perhaps I have a blind spot about religious speech, being a non-believer. Have I heard too many sanctimonious politicians telling me they know best? Even Donald Trump waved a bible at us! It is difficult to know where to draw the line. But I do think the public schools are one of them. People have preached at me at dinner parties, on street corners, and even through my open door. So be it. I can preach right back at them. As long as the law is blind, I’m on board.
So far, no one has tried to convert me, except a few Jehovah Witnesses. Maybe the religious folks don’t see much promise here.
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There’s an elderly Witness I have been seeing trooping around Oak Park for many years in all weathers. Would remind one of Don Knotts. Always with a white shirt and black tie and carrying a briefcase, he has never wavered. I admired his determination, and always turned him away with courtesy. Unlike the bible thumpers, he clearly wasn’t in it for the money.
It’s a shame that so many Christians don’t respect the first amendment