Wingnut: School Prayer Prevents Shootings

The moment I heard about the school shooting in Ohio, I was anxiously awaiting the first wingnut to tell the world that if only we forced students to say government-written prayers every morning, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. Jerry Newcombe of Truth in Action Ministries, come on down. Amusingly, he actually starts by hinting at the real reason why it likely happened:

Apparently, the 17-year old shooter at Chardon High School in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio was picked on by some fellow students. He was described by classmates as a “bullied outcast.”

In a recent Facebook entry, he posted his rage: “Die, all of you.”

On Monday, February 27, he sought revenge on some fellow students. And now, as of this writing, three are dead, and others were left wounded.

I remember after Columbine I did some television interviews in Littleton, Colorado (in the greater Denver area) with some of the surviving family members of those shot and killed in the worst school shooting in our history.

One young man who was familiar with the school and its environment before the 1999 shootings told me something I have never forgotten. He said that one of the killers — long before he and his comrade took revenge into their own hands — had been humiliated in the cafeteria, in front of scores of his classmates by a fellow student (a jock) who poured a milk shake all over him (the shooter-to-be). You will recall that shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold sought out to kill jocks, among other victims.

See, that actually makes sense. It’s not hard to imagine how sadistic bullying by one’s classmates could push a sensitive and troubled kid into either suicide or homicide. But having admitted all of that, Newcombe then opts for a more ridiculous explanation:

There were never school shootings when prayer was in school. Nothing even remotely like it. But now, for the most part, God has been thrown out of our public schools, and they have had to install the metal detector instead. Even that is not fail-proof.

Virtue guru Bill Bennett once told me: “Does anybody really have a worry that the United States is becoming overly pious? That our young people are dedicating too much of their lives to prayer and to reflection? That teenagers in this country are preoccupied with thoughts of eternity and their own readiness for eternity?”

I find it ironic that yesterday’s shooting would occur in the shadow of the 50th anniversary of the infamous school prayer decision. In June 1962, in Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court ruled that schools could not officially participate in prayer…

Our schools today don’t have a prayer, yet the Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. To me, this is like a baseball player who supposedly hits a home run but is called out because when he ran around the bases, he did not in fact touch first base.

As long as our schools don’t have a prayer, I suppose some of them need to have a sign installed out in front: Enter at your own risk.

I suppose that when one lacks all ability to use actual reason, post hoc reasoning is the closest they’ll ever get to it. Funny, though, that the Supreme Court’s ruling on prayer covers all 98,000 public schools in the country, yet school shootings happen in maybe one school a year. Not a very strong causal link, to say the least.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/dskast danielkast

    There were never school shootings when prayer was in school. Nothing even remotely like it.

    Except for this:

    July 4, 1886: Charleston, South Carolina During Sunday school, Emma Connelly shot and killed John Steedley for “circulating slanderous reports” about her, even though her brother publicly whipped him a few days earlier.

    And this:

    September 24, 1937: Toledo, Ohio 12-year-old Robert Snyder shot and wounded his principal, June Mapes, in her office at Arlington public school when she declined his request to call a classmate. He then fled the school grounds and shot and wounded himself.

    And this:

    April 9, 1952: New York City, New York A 15-year-old boarding-school student shot a dean rather than relinquish pin-up pictures of girls in bathing suits.

    And five dozen other incidents of school violence predating the SCOTUS decision in 1962. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shootings#History_of_School_Shootings_in_the_United_States

  • http://rockstarramblings.blogspot.com/ Bronze Dog

    And now I await the next fundie to come along and tell us that bullies need special protections and continued immunity to disciplinary measures. Also, that it’s the bullied kids’ fault for not conforming, so they brought the bullying on themselves.

  • d cwilson

    God has been thrown out of our public schools

    Boy, gawd is really impotent if he can be kept out of a building by decree.

  • eric

    A terrible tragedy, made worse by ghouls.

    Does anybody really have a worry that the United States is becoming overly pious?

    When we have a contender for President who claims that the separation between Church and State “sickens” him, I have to say yes.

  • davidct

    Yes the media now make these horrific incidents seem to be common. I an accidental school shooting that occurred when I was in grade school. Back in the stone age when I was in school this did not make the national media. The Lord’s prayer was still in place at my school. Unfortunately it is not about fear so reintroducing it will not result in sufficient fear.

    If fearing god is so effective, why are so many of the people in prison christians? They will have to work harder at the fear part since the message is not getting through.

  • http://www.atheist-faq.com JT (Generic)

    Population and economic pressures are also up, with a decrease in industrial capacity thanks to outsourcing. It’s easy to feel lost in society now.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    When I was in high school (Toronto, mid-70s) they still did the Lord’s Prayer every morning right after O Canada (that didn’t get stopped until IIRC 1982). In 1975, student Michael Slobodian shot up his high school in Brampton. Killed one fellow student and a teacher, and wounded 13, before killing himself. In (stereotypically) peaceful Canada.

    I was an evangelical at the time — I thought this rote recitation every morning was about the farthest thing from what prayer was supposed to be about. People like Newcombe treat prayer, not as an act of personal devotion, but a magic spell that’s supposed to ward off evil for the day.

  • parasiteboy

    I was very disappointed by a friend who posted a picture on FB that read

    Dear God,

    Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?

    Signed, a concerned student

    Dear Concerned Student,

    I am not allowed in schools.

    God

    This just distracts people from the actual causes of these incidents and this sentiment will be used to take away time and effort from solutions that focus on the reasons for such violent outburst.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    His description of Columbine is off. Evidence points to the shooters there being bullies and sociopaths, not kids who got picked on until they snapped.

  • John Hinkle

    Our schools today don’t have a prayer,

    Didn’t someone once say that as long as there’s algebra, there will always be prayer in school?

  • MikeMa

    The constitution is always perfect, except when someone’s pet project is prevented.

    I believe all religions and their adherents are safer because of the 1st amendment and the separation. Not sure why that is so difficult to see. Must have something to do with having your eyes closed in prayer or something.

  • Sastra

    Virtue guru Bill Bennett once told me: “Does anybody really have a worry that the United States is becoming overly pious? That our young people are dedicating too much of their lives to prayer and to reflection? That teenagers in this country are preoccupied with thoughts of eternity and their own readiness for eternity?”

    The underlying assumption that it’s silly to think that a nation, an individual, or “young people” in general could ever become “overly pious” — or that dedicated religious belief and preoccupation with thoughts of eternity could ever be thought of as undesirable traits — rather falls apart when we see what such fervor can do in Islamic countries. That comparison ought to at least occur to both Bennett and Newcombe, who both believe that the fiery destruction of the world and the violent punishment of the damned is a necessary part of the “Good News.” The tricky part seems to be deciding whether or not you’re supposed to act as God’s Instrument.

  • Scott F

    @5:

    If fearing god is so effective, why are so many of the people in prison christians?

    Because if you are seen to be a devout Christian, especially a recent and pious convert, you get special treatment. My sister went through several “Christian” drug rehab programs. (They were allowed to pick their own program from a menu of choices, and the “Christian” program was the obvious favorite and easiest of the lot.) She certainly talked the evangelical talk while she was in the program. And then that lasted about two weeks once she was out; as did the “treatment”. Praise Jesus!

  • anandine

    In some places, bullying is okay as long as you are doing it from a deeply held moral conviction, such as that god hates gays and wants us to beat them up.

  • Chiroptera

    MikeMa, #11: I believe all religions and their adherents are safer because of the 1st amendment and the separation. Not sure why that is so difficult to see.

    They don’t think far enough ahead. They don’t see what is coming when they finally get into power — namely as the more dominant groups start to liquidate their former-allies-turned-bitter-enemies-over-minor-doctrinal-differences.

    Or maybe they assume their faction is the one that’s going to be on top.

  • d cwilson

    Or maybe they assume their faction is the one that’s going to be on top.

    Naturally, since their faction is the One True Faith ™, of course they’re going to be victorious in the end.

    The other thing is, since part of their faith is apparently the need to use the power of government to ram their religion down everyone else’s throats, anything that prevents them from doing so is seen as persecution in their eyes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kitwalker1990 chriswalker

    Thinking of school shooters as victims bullied until they snap really places the wrong kind of attention on the wrong kids. Shooting up your school really isn’t the first impulse of the outcast and depressed teenager. If it was, we’d have a rash of gay teen mass murderers as opposed to gay teen suicides. There’s already something something violent and off kilter about school shooters, based on what I read. Hatred and anger instead of fear and sadness.

  • Randomfactor

    Prayer really helped this killer, a 15-year-old (at the time) who killed a nine-year-old and wrote in her diary:

    “I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they’re dead,” Bustamante wrote in her diary, which was read in court by a hand-writing expert. “I don’t know how to feel atm. It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the ‘ohmygawd I can’t do this’ feeling, it’s pretty enjoyable. I’m kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now … lol.”

  • DaveL

    I believe all religions and their adherents are safer because of the 1st amendment and the separation. Not sure why that is so difficult to see.

    I think it’s for the same reason that there’s a growing distrust of vaccination among parents. The First Amendment has actually been a remarkably effective countermeasure against religious strife in the U.S. Mainstream Christians today can read about Quakers being hanged for their beliefs or Catholics having to meet in secret, but it doesn’t seem real. And because that threat is not perceived as real in the first place, it wouldn’t occur to them to ask what it is that protects them from it.

  • laurentweppe

    His description of Columbine is off. Evidence points to the shooters there being bullies and sociopaths, not kids who got picked on until they snapped.

    Actually, evidences pointed towaord the duo being one sociopath and one bullied kid who snapped: one hell of an explosive mix.

    ***

    Shooting up your school really isn’t the first impulse of the outcast and depressed teenager. If it was, we’d have a rash of gay teen mass murderers as opposed to gay teen suicides

    The fact that it’s not the first impulse of bullied kids does not mean that they don’t think about it: I was bullied in Middle School, and even if I never acted upon it, the desire to tear appart limb by limbs my bullies (and their parents who fucked up their educations, and the teachers who I felt did not do their job correctly by taking my side, and all the bystanders who had seen me getting bullied and never took my defense -something like 90% of my classmates-) was definitely there.

  • http://peicurmudgeon.wordpress.com/ peicurmudgeon

    And if only they allowed prayers in Church, child abuse would never happen.

  • Uncle Glenny

    That teenagers in this country are preoccupied with thoughts of eternity and their own readiness for eternity?

    The flashbacks were a real bummer.

  • elizabethostwald

    One of the more disturbing stories in the Little House on the Prairie books is when Almanzo is a child in upstate New York (1860’s), and the “big boys” in school boast (with the support of some of their parents) that they will thrash (or possibly kill) the teacher and break up the school. All the other kids are terrified (because apparently it’s happened before), but the teacher ends up borrowing a bullwhip and beating the ringleader.

  • Chris from Europe

    @laurentweppe

    I remember that whenever I tried to defend myself, the teachers jumped in on behalf of the bullies. And I might have said a few things similar to your thoughts that would result in a visit by the police nowadays.

  • laurentweppe

    @chris: hey: i was more “lucky” than you: in my case, it was merely the bullies who were smart enough to tone down the bullying when a teacher or one of the handfull of classmates sympathetic to me was close (no proof, no witness: no punishment): eventually, my bullies became too confident and one beating happened right under the nose of a teacher, at which point the whole team of teachers turned against the bullies put them back in their place: at least in my case the teaching profession kept its honor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1520169291 carolineborduin

    Wait, Virtue guru? Bennett is a nasty piece of work with a gambling problem, no matter what titles he gives his schlocky books.

  • dmcclean

    Can anyone explain his baseball analogy to me? Seriously, WTF is he talking about?

  • Chiroptera

    dmcclean, #27:

    I think he’s saying that God is that umpire who will send people to eternal torment in Hell fire for a minor technical violation of the rules, that is, for not participating in a school sponsored prayer, even though there is no longer any school sponsored prayer in which to participate.

  • kimberlyherbert

    The Bath School disaster was a bombing by an adult unhappy over taxes not a shooting by a kid – but it is the largest mass murder at a school.

    As far as kids losing it and killing.

    I’ll never forget, when my parents figure out how bad the bullying I was experiencing at school was. During a vacation in Canada there were several things that happened that made it clear what was happening. When we got back home, my parents started exploring their options. Unfortunately school started right after we got back home – so a new school wasn’t an immediate option.

    One day a friend watched my little sister, while Mom took me to get some new shoes. When we got home the friend told my Mom the phone had been ringing off the hook with concerned parents. The bully had kicked me in the throat during dismissal, and I had just walked off. Kids were afraid I was seriously hurt.

    Mom called me out of my room, and asked if bully had kicked me in the throat. I told her he had. She asked why I didn’t tell the teachers. I said they won’t do anything. Why didn’t I tell her. Because she couldn’t do anything – but bully wasn’t going to ever touch me again.

    My Mom called Dad – who came home and took his revolver and rifle out of the house and over to his lawyer’s house. They kept me out of school the next day. I as taken to the doctor to document the injuries and to some type of councilor. My parents also met with the lawyer.

    That a was Thursday and Friday. Monday my parents arrived at school with paperwork from the lawyer. It promised one hell of a law suit and criminal charges not just against the boy but against the administrators that kept reversing punishments by the principal and teachers. The fact we had documented evidence that a school board member had told my Dad, “Well if she wouldn’t keep making Bully mad, if she didn’t like getting beat up.” in front of witnesses.

    The harassment and bullying stopped on a dime. Years later my parents told me they weren’t sure if I was going to kill the bully or if I was going to kill myself – they were just sure someone was going to die that next day if they didn’t do something.

    We got quite a reputation in the district. 6 years later my cousin was being bullied. His parents got the run around also – until the staff realized that his father and my father were 1st cousins.They overheard our mothers talking about a sick aunt of ours and asked if they were related. Less than 10 minutes later the people harassing my cousin were all suspended.

    In addition to beatings my bully threatened rape daily. Guess what he finally went to prison for?

  • Rip Steakface

    Can anyone explain his baseball analogy to me? Seriously, WTF is he talking about?

    Lemme see if I can parse his tortured thinking:

    Our schools today don’t have a prayer, yet the Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. To me, this is like a baseball player who supposedly hits a home run but is called out because when he ran around the bases, he did not in fact touch first base.

    So basically, wisdom = hitting a home run, and fear of the LAHRD = touching first base. In baseball, you have to touch each base as you go around the field to get back to home plate. I guess it’s basically “before you can learn you have to believe in gawd.”

    Blech, I feel dirty now. Inserted myself into a fundie mindset for a few moments and I can practically feel the intelligence and sanity slipping away.

  • ritchieannand

    Dear Concerned Student,

    I am not allowed in schools.

    God

    Unless invited in?

    Vampire?