Terry Manning

Signed, a Christian who doesn’t want organized prayer in school


By Terry Manning

Anytime violence touches a school, well intentioned people post the same ill-conceived takes on social media:

“When I was in school we carried gun racks in our pickups, and we never had people go shooting up the place.”

“When I was in school we prayed and said the Pledge of Allegiance, and we didn’t have these kinds of things happening.”

“They took God out of the classroom, and look what happened.”

It drives me nuts! Not because I resent their desire to make schools a safe place for young people to learn and grow, but because they conveniently ignore so much else that might explain why we are having increased violence in general, not just around schools, and how mandated school prayer could cause more harm than good.

Since 1962 there has been established prohibition against school-sponsored prayer or any other practice that elevates one religion above another. Unless you graduated before that year, you went to school when organized prayer in public education was illegal, whether or not your local school or district complied.

I graduated in 1985, and every Friday before football games, players were taken out to dinner where we were fed sirloin tips, a baked potato, green beans or salad, dessert — and a motivational word and prayer from a local pastor. Every prayer included a plea for a sincere effort and for safety for the players.

We still lost games. Players still suffered injuries.

I welcomed those prayers, and it never occurred to me that a teammate might take offense. But what if one had? Or what would have happened if one of the coaches had started putting their private practice of faith above the law?

The latter is what happened in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a case before the Supreme Court. Joseph Kennedy is a former Marine and football coach at a school in Bremerton, Wash. He also considers himself, according to court documents, a devout Catholic.

Starting in 2008, as players and coaches shook hands after games, Kennedy would walk to the 50-yard line, kneel and pray. He was alone at the beginning but in time players from his team and even opposing teams asked to join him.

His reply?

“This is a free country …. You can do what you want.”

Sometimes, no players joined Kennedy, other times there were quite a few, and he began to deliver “motivational” messages to the players who gathered to pray with him. He even began joining pregame prayer sessions initiated by the student-athletes.

This went on for seven years, until an official from another school commented favorably on Kennedy’s actions to Bremerton High School’s principal. A different administrator at the school admonished Kennedy, who then went to Facebook and posted, “I think I just might have been fired for praying.”

Kennedy hadn’t actually been terminated, but his post sparked support from thousands of people across the country who flooded the district with calls, letters and emails of support. The district gave Kennedy guidance on modifying his actions to protect himself and the district from legal action, but he defied them and was terminated.

“This is a free country …. You can do what you want.”

Except you can’t, and everyone seems to know that except people like Kennedy who paint themselves as victims of religious oppression. This siege mentality, that Christianity is under attack, that they (usually white people) are having something taken from them, is easy bait to be used by a Republican Party trying to galvanize itself against demographic change.

Change begets fear, fear begets rage, and rage begets … more rage.

And so you have Baptist preachers like Greg Locke, who tells his congregation, “You cannot be a Christian and vote Democrat in this nation. … They are God-denying demons that butcher babies and hate this nation.”

Gee, why wouldn’t I want a mandate for that to be broadcast over school public address systems every morning? Locke is an extremist, but his mentality is one that is moving from the fringe to the center of conservative ideology.

These people who say, “Put prayer back in schools,” care less about being Christ-like than they do getting their way and keeping the nation looking and sounding like they think it did when they were in school.

You want prayer in school? Teach your children how to pray. A silent prayer from the heart or an intimate prayer with a friend will travel farther than vain repetitions made to signal dominance over others.

Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com.

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