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 They have now been replaced by the state National Guards, which supply any needed arms to its members.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