Hoosiers have two major reasons to oppose state Sen. Dennis Kruse’s proposal allowing public schools to start their school days by reciting the Lord’s prayer.
The first is one of practicality. Like it or not, U.S. Supreme Court decisions banning school-sponsored prayer date back 50 years. And anyone who thinks that the court would suddenly wipe out its precedents simply because Indiana has passed a law is woefully wrong. But such a law would doubtless trigger expensive taxpayer-financed court fights that would ultimately result in courts striking down a clearly unconstitutional law.
The Indiana General Assembly has several important issues to address this year, and passing a law certain to be ruled unconstitutional is a poor waste of time.
Yes, students could opt out of the daily prayer, but as courts have well noted, that would simply single out the students who declined to participate, causing some to be ostracized.
The second reason dates back not 50 years but 350.
It involves an important concept behind the First Amendment that too many Americans often forget because most court cases now focus on protecting the rights of people not to be exposed to a government-supported religion, such as the Christianity that school prayer advances. But the major reason for the First Amendment is to protect the rights of Christians and followers of other religions to be permitted to worship as they wish, without government requirements.
Pilgrims and others came from Europe to America precisely because some European governments backed a religion that wasn’t theirs.
In 1657, in what is now Flushing, N.Y., the governor of New Amsterdam – who had already expelled a Lutheran minister who wanted a place to meet – fined and deported a resident who allowed Quakers to meet in the resident’s home. In response, 30 people wrote The Flushing Remonstrance, calling for freedom of religion to extend to Jews, Turks, and Egyptians as well as those who are Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker. The governor imprisoned four of the signers, ordering that they be restricted to bread and water.
In 1658, the governor, Peter Stuyvesant, ordered a day of prayer – strictly from the Dutch Reformed Church – and in 1663, he enacted an ordinance prohibiting Vagabonds, Quakers and other Fugitives from entering New Amsterdam.
A century later, when the nation’s founders wrote the U.S. Constitution, the principle of the Flushing Remonstrance was incorporated into the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion.
Justice Hugo Black, in the landmark 1962 ruling that public school-sponsored prayer was unconstitutional, wrote about the Constitution’s authors: These people knew, some of them from bitter personal experience, that one of the greatest dangers to the freedom of the individual to worship in his own way lay in the Government’s placing its official stamp of approval upon one particular kind of prayer or one particular form of religious services.
Fortunately, Kruse’s bill – Senate Bill 23 – has been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, a signal that it will not advance. But issues that appear dead can resurface in a legislative session – especially one where one party has a supermajority in both houses.
This bill should not take up a second more of the legislature’s time.