Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kumbaya in the Classroom

Pope Phil is at it again - fondly remembering a time when kids were forced to listen to state-sponsored prayers and hoping that people will see the "wisdom" of forcing future students to do the same. Who needs freedom of religion when the State of Mississippi can write and say our prayers for us?

"I know it's difficult when you start talking about denominations and different beliefs, but I think there is a way for us to have a nondenominational opening prayer when the opportunity is available to let people know there is a God," said Bryant, who is Methodist. "Those children should know that he does care about them, particularly within their classroom."

Hopefully, most of us already understand the Establishment Clause and how even a non-denominational prayer at school would violate the First Amendment. But I'm going to show you why Pope Phil's "Kumbaya" approach is not compatible with religious freedom and I'm going to use his exact words above to do so.

1. "...there is a God." Zap! There went the atheists' religious freedom. When the State says that a god exists, it endorses theistic belief over atheistic belief.

2. "...there is a God." Zap! There went the polytheists' religious freedom as well. When the State says there is "a" god, it means only one god. 

3. "Those children should know that he..." Zap! There went the religious freedom of everyone who believes in a female deity. The State endorses one male god only.

4. "...that he does care about them..." Zap! There went the deists' religious freedom. The State endorses the idea of a personal god that intervenes in daily life.

Who does that leave religious freedom open for? Obviously, for the Christians, Jews, and Muslims, right? No, not really.

Many (if not all - I'm not sure) Muslims segregate the sexes at prayer time. A state-sponsored prayer in the classroom won't accommodate those needs. Jews also have particular ways that they pray that differ from mainstream Christianity and those needs likely won't be accommodated either.

So we're left with only Christians really having religious freedom, right? Still, no. Jehovah's Witnesses won't participate in a state-sponsored prayer so they don't get religious freedom. Many Catholics have specific prayers or invoke the aid of saints and the Virgin Mary so this state-sponsored prayer probably won't meet their needs either.

So who gets the religious freedom? Pretty much just Protestants and isn't that what Pope Phil really means? I wonder what the teacher is supposed to do after the prayer when the Pentecostal students get filled with the holy ghost and start jumping on desks and shouting. Perhaps some of them will bring rattlesnakes to wave in the air after the prayer to show their faith.

It may sound ridiculous but a lot of people do this stuff because it's an important - sometimes vital - part of their religious faith. No mealy-mouthed "non-denominational" prayer is going to satisfy the needs of all students. It's only going to satisfy the ego of the AFA and like-minded folks. 

If Pope Phil wants prayer in school, he needs to do his job as a pastor on Sunday and encourage his flock to prayer more. But when it comes to job as a governor, he needs to drink a big cup of Shut-the-Fuck-Up and let free people remain free.