The Greatest Opponent to Prayer in Schools is…

Editor’s Note:  This TCP member and regular blog contributor shares his thoughts on a recent Facebook discussion he was involved with on the subject of school prayer. 

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By John Lombard

I recently participated in a Facebook post with a graphic that had a Christian praying to God, asking why he allowed so many school shootings.  And God answers,

                           “What did you expect when you took me out of your schools?”

This was followed by a long string of comments debating about prayer in schools.

Not a week goes by that some religious leader isn’t publicly condemning the persecution of Christians, by not allowing prayer in schools.  Or by not allowing Christian symbols in government offices.  Or many other such abuses.

Their case is argued quite thoroughly.  They’ll point to numerous verifiable situations where Christians have been ordered not to pray in school, and even punished if they do so.  They’ll cite verifiable news stories where Christian symbols and quotations have been removed from government buildings.  In fact, they’ll have quite a long list of such stories.

I do not dispute the truth of those stories.  This is happening.

But it is not atheists, or other religions, which are causing this to happen.  Quite the opposite, it is Christians themselves who are the greatest opponents of prayer in school, or of having religious symbols in government buildings.

Before you condemn me as a raving lunatic, let me ask you this question.  What would happen if we were to ask the average conservative Christian,

“Would you agree to allow Muslim prayers in school?  What about Wiccan?  Or Hindu?”

The vast majority would respond that they are absolutely opposed to any such notion.  Ask those same people if they would support the idea of having Muslim religious symbols in their government buildings? Or Buddhist symbols?  Or atheist symbols?  Again, most of them would quite vehemently object.

“Our nation is a Christian nation!” they will respond, as a justification for this.

I am a Secular Humanist and an atheist.  But I am also a passionate believer in freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.  I actually support the idea of prayer in school, as do many other atheists and Humanists. As I support having religious symbols in government buildings.

But prayer in school means that all religions have the same rights and freedoms.  Not just Christians. And the same for religious symbols in government buildings.

And there’s where the problem comes in.

When Christians are denied the opportunity to do something connected with their religion, it is condemned as persecution and religious discrimination. It is unacceptable, an attack on their freedom. But when Christians then seek to deny those very same rights to any non-Christian group, it suddenly is no longer persecution or religious discrimination.  Instead, it’s called “protecting our country’s religious heritage” or some other such justification.

It is important here to remember that the original Europeans who came to the U.S. did so because of religious persecution.  At that time in Europe, countries had official state churches.  Belonging to the official church got you tons of benefits; belonging to any other group denied you many of those benefits, and in many cases resulted in direct persecution.  The United States was founded on the principle that this should not happen in the U.S., that no religion should get special status or treatment from the government.  That is why separation of church and state are such fundamental and important parts of the American Constitution, and American law.

When Christians argue that they should have a special right or freedom that they would seek to deny to other religions, they are violating one of the most fundamental principles on which their country was founded.  They are asking their government to give their religion a special status and special treatment, which will be denied to all other religions. They are not patriots.  Quite the opposite, they are opposing both the American Constitution and one of the most basic principles of the Founding Fathers.

If you disagree with my claim that Christians are the greatest opponents to prayer in school or to all other such claims of religious persecution, simply give them this choice: You can have no prayer in school; or you can allow all groups an equal right to pray in school.  While there are more liberal Christians who would choose the latter option, the conservative Christians would (and do) quite vehemently oppose it. They would, instead, choose no prayer.  And repeatedly, this is actually the choice that they have made.

Moreover, all those atheists who are depicted as trying to end prayer in school?  Nope.  The vast majority of them would completely agree with the latter choice.  It’s not atheists (or liberals in general) who are preventing prayer in school.

It is Christians.

It is not only dishonest, it’s fundamentally hypocritical for Christians to argue that it is religious persecution or a violation of their religious freedom or any other such argument, when they are simultaneously arguing that all other religions should be treated in the manner that they themselves object to.

Now, if you’re a Christian reading this, and you support the idea of allowing all religions equal rights — congratulations!  Despite our different beliefs, we are allies.

But I guarantee that if you were to line up all the atheists who oppose allowing all religions the same rights and freedoms and all the Christians who oppose allowing all religions the same rights and freedoms, it would not be the atheists who would be the main barrier.

So remember:  the next time you hear a Christian raising this issue, the first thing you should ask them is,

“How do you feel about allowing other religions the same rights and freedoms that they want for Christians?”

If they oppose that, then they are hypocrites, seeking to do to others the very thing that they condemn others doing to them. And they are the ones responsible for taking prayer out of our schools, and out of our government buildings.

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Bio: John Lombard is a Humanist and ex-missionary who grew up in Ontario and has been living and working in China for more than 20 years. He currently works as a cross-cultural consultant to help foreign companies seeking to do business in China.  He is launching an exciting new business, The Language of Culture, to teach Cultural Intelligence, at languageofculture.net.

>>>>Photo Credits: “Christ The Consolator” by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890) – Private Collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_The_Consolator.jpg#/media/File:Christ_The_Consolator.jpg

 

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jeff

    Your point is well taken. However, I disagree with your comment that religious symbols should be allowed in government buildings. No religious symbol should appear. In nearly all religions, various injustices are approved, and treatment of various civil or criminal actions conflict with the law. There should be no confusion, no possible subjective application. Those symbols could bring into question the equity of how someone is treated.

    • John Lombard

      Jeff, I’d actually have no problem with that at all, so long as it represented ALL beliefs (including symbols representing atheism, science, etc.). If you put ONE symbol up, then I’d agree with you…it appears to be endorsing that religion. But when you put ALL of them — many of which completely contradict each other — it is no longer possible to interpret that as any sort of ENDORSEMENT of your particular religion. Instead, it simply says, “Your government represents you, as well as everyone else”.

      In my opinion, it ROBS any particular religion of any real power, status, or validity. Their religion is no more valid than any other. It has no more rights than any other. It is not endorsed more than any other. I think that this message is communicated far more clearly by having ALL of those symbols up there, rather than having none.

      And I am certain that this is specifically WHY Christians are so opposed to it.

      🙂

      • Jeff

        The display of the several thousands of symbols ( just as an example) doesn’t remove the stigma that someone in the government has that belief. Does NOT displaying any symbol suddenly mean that religious bias is removed? Of course not. But given the choice, I prefer no reference to any religion.

        • John Lombard

          Neither way “removes the stigma that someone in the government has that belief”. So I don’t see how that is an argument either for OR against. So this really comes down just to what you prefer, which I can understand.

          However, first I’d point out just how much Christians (and many other religions) oppose this, specifically because they KNOW that it essentially renders their own religion meaningless and irrelevant. And second, it would ALSO have explicitly secular and atheist symbols, which by your own arguments would give them greater legitimacy.

          In the end, I wouldn’t particularly care either way. My point is to counter Christian complaints about discrimination or persecution…and to demonstrate that it is THEY who are doing the discrimination, by insisting that their symbols should be displayed, but nobody else’s. Display everything, or display nothing — neither is discriminatory, everyone is treated the same. But display only ONE religion’s symbols, that is by any reasonable argument discriminatory. And I think you and I can easily agree on that point 🙂

          • Jeff

            Agreed.

  • ” And God answers, “What did you expect when you took me out of your schools?”

    So, GOD is running a protection racket.

    • Nos482

      So, simply telling god to GTFO is enough to keep the Lord and Maker of the universe away? Good to know.

      • Not less you got Ness, Jedgarhoover and JeffyBo Sessions workin’ for ya!

      • ThaneOfDrones

        Too bad it hasn’t worked for guns, which are also prohibited in schools.

    • al kimeea

      That’s a nice business soul you got there. Shame to see somethin happen to it…

      • No shit.

        There’s prolly some high court’s magistrate up in Asgard or on Mt. Olympus or (take your pick of THOUSANDS of various religious paradises) whose got serious paper on this pisher YooHoo who is basically running a global smash’n’grab, drug and extortion ring.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Or atheist symbols? Again, most of them would quite vehemently object.

    True. And in their myopic narcissism, exclusion of Christian symbols is incorrectly identified as atheist. I had a discussion with my own brother in which the topic of the slogan “In God We Trust” on the coinage came up. He interpreted the elimination of the slogan as an atheist position. This is so wrong, and distorts the debate. An atheist position would be something like putting In no gods we trust on the coins. Saying nothing about gods is a neutral position.

    • abb3w

      There’s also religious arguments in the particular case of the coinage; Teddy Roosevelt opposed it on the grounds that putting God on coinage used for secular and even profane commerce (like hiring prostitutes) was potentially sacrilegious.

    • ElizabetB.

      If we wanted to be truthful, we could edit slightly – “In Guns We Trust”

  • mason

    John, Believers who’ve been bamboozled by a false dilemma are easily kept fired up by more false dilemmas. Prayer not allowed in public schools is a false dilemma.

    Evangelical Christians are at least consistent with their lack of reading comprehension of the so called “Bible” and Supreme Court rulings. Prayers-private religious expressions, of any kind, (Islamic, Hindu, Satanic Temple, Rastafarian, Jewish etc.) are allowed by students privately, or in groups after school, but may not be school sponsored or disrupt other students or school activities.

    Evangelicals want school sponsored Christian Evangelical style prayer and a theocratic government, while they await for their totalitarian King to come rule planet Earth. The Evangelical mind-set is a dangerous theocratic mind-set.

    School sponsored prayer is forbidden by 1962 SCOTUS ruling. The use and display of symbols is more complex e.g. ten commandments can’t be a permanent display. This article covers the law and rulings rather well.

    “As our courts have reaffirmed, however, nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the schoolhouse door.” (from linked article … “Can Students Pray In Public Schools?”)

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/12/24/can-students-pray-in-public-schools-can-teachers-say-merry-christmas-whats-allowed-and-forbidden/?utm_term=.0243da188ac9

    • ElizabetB.

      I’m shocked that SCOTUS considers the Christmas tree and (temporary) menorah “secular symbols”!
      Thanks for the link!

      • John Lombard

        I’d actually have no problems considering a Christmas tree itself to be a secular symbol. I use a Christmas tree every year, and see nothing religious about it at all. Only becomes religious if you add religious decorations to it.

        But a menorah, I’d have a much more difficult time seeing that as ‘secular’.

        • ElizabetB.

          I think I’m just too brainwashed to go there : )

          • ElizabetB.

            tho I have to say that one of my favorite things is Chris Highland climbing a tree every Christmas : )

        • ThaneOfDrones

          I use a Christmas tree every year, and see nothing religious about it at all.

          Familiarity has blinded you to the deep religious roots of the holiday tree.

          link

          Pagans in Europe used branches of evergreen fir trees to decorate their homes and brighten their spirits during the winter solstice.
          Early Romans used evergreens to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia, while ancient Egyptians used green palm rushes as part of their worship of the god Ra.

          • John Lombard

            I’m sorry, but you’re making massively unwarranted assumptions here about what I know. I’m extremely familiar with the history of the “Christmas tree”, including it’s pagan background. I’m ALSO aware that symbols change in meaning. The Christmas tree, for example, was once a symbol of a pagan festival. Then it was a symbol of a Christian festival. But there are MANY cultures around the world where a Christmas tree has little or no religious meaning whatsoever.

            A good example would be China…a largely atheist country (and a place I’ve lived for 25 years), where people routinely put up Christmas trees for decoration at Christmas. It has exactly ZERO religious symbolism or meaning for them. There are also a great many atheists in North America who use Christmas trees, again without any religious symbolism or meaning.

            A vast number of people — even some Christians — will look at a Christmas tree and think NOTHING WHATSOEVER of Jesus, or Christianity.

            If you want to feel trapped by history, feel free. But please do NOT try to tell me what a particular symbol must mean to me, or to anyone else. The Christians appropriated the tree as a symbol for their religion; there’s no reason whatsoever that non-Christians cannot likewise appropriate it for themselves.

          • ElizabetB.

            (I thot Thane was just being sarcastic…. ?
            Printed word is tricky!!))

    • John Lombard

      Thanks for all of the clarifications, mason! Yours is the more fact-based argument. Mine is going after Christians based on their own arguments and misunderstandings 🙂

      • mason

        You mean feeding them their own words to choke on? 🙂

        • John Lombard

          Pretty much. Demonstrate that even by their own arguments, there’s really no foundation to their claims. That they are NOT advocates for prayer in school, or freedom of religion, or anything else like that; but rather that they promote policies that are actually MORE discriminatory and hypocritical than what they claim to oppose.

  • ElizabetB.

    Interesting point!
    John, I’m assuming that when you say you support prayer by all in school, you are NOT talking about school-sponsored prayer? or are you thinking about a baccalaureate service etc with prayers being offered by a variety of faith traditions?

    • John Lombard

      ElizabetB.– Actually, I wouldn’t mind ‘school-sponsored prayer’ at all, so long as ALL groups were allowed to do it equally (including atheists giving some sort of secular invocation). Monday there’s a Christian prayer, Tuesday there’s a Muslim prayer, Wednesday there’s a Hindu prayer, Thursday there’s a Wiccan prayer, Friday there’s an atheist invocation, etc. From my perspective, I think that this would actually result in causing students to think more critically about religion, and about their own beliefs.

      • Bravo Sierra

        I’m not sure there are enough days in the school year to get all the prayers in. 😉

      • mason

        I object to school sponsored prayer on any basis, though all groups would offer more of a chance for a student to step back and think … hmmm. But, even with all groups allowed to do it, it would lend support to the various absurd deities by the educational institution. As Bravo cites, there’s not enough days in the year if the dominate theistic group in the society attempted to play fair, which they wouldn’t.

        • John Lombard

          I disagree. In fact, I see it quite the opposite. School sponsored prayers, if done equally by ALL religions, would give most students what may be their ONLY actual exposure to the beliefs and practices of other religions. Outside of this, they’re going to get little or no such opportunity.

          My suspicion would be that the ultimate result of this would be to cause far more students to question their own beliefs. Nor can any particular religion argue that it somehow gives legitimacy to THEIR religion, since by that argument it makes all OTHER religions (and non-religious groups like Humanists) equally legitimate, which they will generally deny.

          As with most things in life, I believe that lies and untruths are best revealed by exposing them to the light of day, not by hiding them away.

      • ElizabetB.

        Well, it would certainly be *interesting*! — a very interesting part of the day!

      • John-Hugh Boyd

        …causing students to think more critically about religion, and about their own beliefs.

        Thinking critically????? You want them to think…. like THAT?????? How dare you!!! We have no time in the nation’s school to allow any thinking!!!!

        ….. because you KNOW all that will go over the head of at least one person……

  • That is a very interesting point, and I believe you are correct when you say that evangelicals,want their style of prayer enforced or no prayer at all (because it wouldn’t be the correct kind)

  • John Lombard

    To insert a little levity into the discussion…just saw a humorous post on Facebook that’s relevant to this discussion:

    “We can only blame ourselves for all the crime and violence today. We got rid of all the phone booths, and now Superman has nowhere to change”

    😀

    • Raging Bee

      So THAT’S why it’s all gone to hell! And we all have ourselves to blame for not seeing that connection years ago!

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Just a reminder that the infamous “prayer over the loudspeaker at football games” lawsuit was not brought by atheists, but by Mormons and Catholics, who were upset because it was always the baptists who got to say the prayers and they wanted to do it, too.

    Basically, the school preferred to ban all prayers completely rather than allow a Hail Mary being said over the loudspeaker (ironically, considering it was a football game)

  • Jay Has

    I’ve had these very conversations with Christians, and you hit it right on the head. Those are the exact same things they claim. They fail to see the contradiction of freedom of religion as they wish not to grant that same freedom to other religions. Somehow they feel being the majority allows them to skirt the issue.

  • John Gills

    Couldn’t we counter-argue that the rise in school shootings directly correlates with the increasing awareness of religious financial and sexual abuse?