Recently, the following electronic petition plea was sent to an e-group to which I subscribe:
Dear President Bush:
Many of us were deeply touched to hear you recite a portion of Psalm?23 in?your address to this great nation in the dark hoursfollowing the?terrorists attacks. We were encouraged and comforted to know that?we truly had a believer working with us and for us in our nation’s?highest office.
We, the people of America, are requesting that you lift the?prohibition of?prayer in schools. As the pledge of our great country states, we?are to be “One nation, under God.” Please allow the prayers and?petitions of our children in schools without the threat of?punishment.
Currently, adults and children in the school are prohibited from?mentioning God unless of course His name is uttered as part of a?curse or profanity. Madeline Murray O’Hare is dead. Let her legacy of atheism in our schools?die with her!
Sincerely, The People of America
Mark 10:13-14 “People were bringing?little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples?rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the?little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of?God belongs to such as these.”
Given that this e-group is devoted to energy healing and metaphysics, I was surprised by this. But I was more concerned by the tone and wording of this petition.
I am an interfaith minister. I believe that “freedom of religion” doesn’t mean “freedom from religion” — as it has so often been interpreted these days. I would love to see a true return to freedom of spirituality in our society, in which all choices in faith (including the atheism) are openly welcomed and celebrated. What we have instead in the United States is pretty much select exclusion of religion: “select,” because terms like “under God” are still used regularly without any grounding, while open prayer/meditation/chanting/what-have-you is increasingly frowned upon and even outlawed.
I’m all for a return to observances of faith in schools, but I wouldn’t want “prayer in schools.” I always liked the idea of a moment of silence, in which students can observe their own faith traditions, or not, by individual choice. Use the time to pray or meditate, daydream, or do homework. Everyone gets the same two minutes; what you do with it is entirely up to you.
I will not sign such a petition, with its obvious bias toward a single faith, to the exclusion of others. Many people mistakenly assume that the de facto religion of the United States is Christianity. Despite the very public religious displays of the president, there are many other faiths actively practiced in this country that deserve similar recognition, not exclusion. The divine is not masculine (“God,”
“His”) nor even a single entity to every American of spirit, nor is Jesus everyone’s pathway or the Bible every American’s holy book.
This is the whole point of the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religious expression in the first place, to provide the foundation in this country for people to worship or not worship any way they pleased, without fear of retribution or persecution. The president can quote the 23rd Psalm or the Bhagavad-Gita all he wants, but that doesn’t make the rest of us his disciples. And regarding the comment in the petition about Madeline Murray O’Hare, atheism is also protected by the Bill of Rights.
When I replied to the e-group about this petition, I found it interesting that my e-mail application’s random signature selector appended this quote to my message:
There are only two commandments:
1. God dwells in you;
2. See God in each other.
All the other commandments were given because people couldn’t understand the first two.