Dallas, TX – Newspaper and television reports regularly highlight stories of student groups praying on campus, kneeling at the flagpole for maximum attention. Images of these young students combining government and religion - Flagianity - I guess you might call it, give the impression that they are being exploited by adult zealots.
Is this whole issue of prayer in public schools a political maneuver by alter-ego types attempting to establish control over public education in order to smother science education and minority beliefs? Do evangelical zealots train youth to publicize their dream of a church state?
Children are not innately disposed toward praying in public. Children are innately disposed toward flirting and gossiping about their friends. As a public school student (1945-1957), I never heard a teacher ask anyone to say a prayer or ever promote religion in any way. I never saw a kid volunteer to pray. I was a Bible reader and consequently very conscious of Jesus' warning against praying in public, as he said the hypocrites did.
This is one rule I would not have violated - and in fact didn't when I was called on to do so once. I was a guest of a friend at a church youth group called Royal Ambassadors. At the end of the meeting the leader suddenly asked me to offer the closing prayer.
It was not his fault. He had no idea how terrified I was of every warning in the Bible - and I was aware of all of them. One in particular was the matter of the little incident in which God ordered Zimri to kill Baasha's entire family. Zimri did the deed with appropriate religious zeal, and "left him not one that pisseth against a wall."
To this day I have never violated a wall thus and have taken no chances with abutments of any kind. I am suspicious of fences. Once I saw a photograph of Mussolini and his men availing themselves of a wall in such a manner and suspected that Il Duce's fate was therein sealed. Later came the magazine photo of him hanging upside down from a gallows. I was young but I could make logical deductions.
Even at twelve I had read all of Jesus' sayings. Suddenly, standing there in the oppressive silence, sweat pouring down, I heard the words echoing in my brain: "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret." To get an idea of how I was feeling you must add extreme shyness to the terror of disobeying Jesus.
So I stood there, mute, trying desperately not to faint. Time, seeming like years, passed. The leader apparently realized we would be there until his Social Security kicked in and so, mercifully, stepped in and said the prayer.
Aside from my Bible knowledge, I do not believe I was very different from other children. So what is the source of this urge toward public prayer in schools, an urge so strong as to overpower Jesus' warning? In Jesus' day, it was simply hypocrisy, making a big show of piety. Is this true of today? Or is it political? Is it an intimidating show of dominance?
You would think that freedom to worship at the church of your choice, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, would not be taken so blithely for granted. In other words, what is wrong with praying in church and studying in school?
Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.