“It seems to me that any prohibition of voluntary prayer in school violates the right of our school children to practice freely their religion. And that’s just not right.” These words resonated on the U.S. Senate floor over a year ago now, but went largely ignored by the media.
Please read that again. And then look again at who said those words. Judge Roy Moore? Jerry Falwell? James Dobson? Some backwoods, right-wing preacher? No, my friend, those ringing words fell from the lips of the Democrat icon, long considered the Senate’s foremost authority on the U.S. Constitution — Sen. Robert Byrd, the new president pro tem of the U.S. Senate! And that’s not all; he openly declared war on the ACLU’s position on school prayer by courageously criticizing federal judges for “moving closer and closer to prohibiting the free exercise of religion in America”!
“It chills my soul,” said Sen. Byrd.
At last, at long blessed last, a greatly influential senator — one generally casting all his votes with the left side of the Senate aisle — has spoken out powerfully in favor of the liberty protected by the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
And how wonderfully fitting it is, that a latter-day Virginian (though of the western variety) who wields such influence in government, should echo the concern of Virginia’s two term President Thomas Jefferson, whose statement is engraved publicly on his monument in Washington, D.C. “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
Perhaps both gentlemen were aware of the prophet Isaiah’s dire warning “If you do not stand firm in your faith . . . you will not stand at all.” [Isaiah 7:9]
Surely, Sen. Byrd, with his great grasp of our history, knows that President Jefferson would have been appalled at the very idea of school children being denied the precious right to pray voluntarily during a school day — or any other time — when he connected our liberties to “a conviction in the minds of the people” that they are the gift of God.
How do you develop that conviction in children while you deny them the freedom to pray? I’m guessing that Sen. Byrd, nearing the end of his illustrious career, wants to correct the warped, perverse, and completely false notion that his Virginia predecessor — so often deemed author of the very “separation of church and state” concept — believed that the First Amendment was ever intended to stifle religious expression anywhere, anytime.
Jefferson most assuredly did not believe that. He said, speaking of religion, “it is deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.”
I hope, I pray, that millions of Americans will contact the good senator to thank him and encourage him to enact legislation declaring that school prayer is legal and constitutional. America’s Prayer Network, P.O. Box 98214, in Washington D.C. 20090, is organizing tens of thousands of “Thank You” cards to be sent directly to Sen. Byrd. Hopefully, hordes of us will write there, ask for cards, and join in the campaign. Others may just want to write him directly, but some cards may get “lost.” The impact, the encouragement, will be much greater if thousands of cards arrive “en masse.”
Such legislation will surely be challenged in court, which will send the issue back to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the current makeup may just end the prohibition of voluntary prayer for our school kids for the first time since 1962. As always, those who don’t wish to participate won’t have to; but the vast majority of kids and teachers who do want to, will be able to again.
Why is that so important? I’ll let this teacher applicant’s letter speak for me, describing her response after being interviewed by the local administration:
Let me see if I’ve got this right. You want me to go into that room with all those kids, correct their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages, and instill in them a love for learning. You want me to check their backpacks for weapons, wage war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, and raise their sense of self-esteem and personal pride. You want me to teach them patriotism and good citizenship, sportsmanship and … check their heads for lice, recognize signs of antisocial behavior, and make sure that they all pass the state exams.
You also want me to provide them with an equal education regardless of their handicaps, and communicate regularly with their parents in English and Spanish by letter, telephone, newsletter, and report card. You want me to do all this with a piece of chalk, a blackboard, a bulletin board, a few books, a big smile, and starting salary that qualifies me for food stamps.
You want me to do all this, and then you tell me I can't pray?
The prophet Isaiah again: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees.” [Isaiah 10: 1]
The facts are stark and incontrovertible. Since 1962, when one angry atheist woman, Madelyn Murray O’Hare, convinced the High Court that school prayer was “unconstitutional”, this country has experienced historic and frightening rises in juvenile crime, teen pregnancy and abortions, drug abuse by our children, significant drops in all learning, and a wholesale unraveling of America’s moral fabric. Our kids spew profanity, dress lewdly, drive wildly, drink disastrously, cheat, lie, and rebel against authority.
Why is this important? If you have to ask, you need prayer yourself. Matter of fact, we all do, in or out of school, on or off government property, and especially in Congress and in our courts.
God bless you, Sen. Byrd, and grant you success on our behalf. Perhaps, as Mordecai said to Queen Esther, "Who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” As president pro tem, you can leave a Jeffersonian legacy, a crown jewel in your historic service to this country.
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