The Truth... What is it?

The High School Prayer

BreakPoint Commentary - June 30, 1999

"Our Father..." The Graduates v. the ACLU By Charles W. Colson Recently President Clinton gave the Congressional Gold Medal to a woman who refused to accept the  status quo: Rosa Parks. Mrs. Parks helped ignite the civil-rights movement when she refused to  give up her seat on a bus to a white man.   Recently another American bucked the status quo.   But don't hold your breath waiting for the White House to celebrate him.   The story took place in Calvert County, Maryland, where a senior named Julie Schenk asked to lead  a prayer at her high-school graduation.   Of course, it's perfectly legal for students, as opposed to school administrators, to lead classmates in prayer.  But all too often, schools refuse to allow students to pray for fear of provoking a pricey ACLU lawsuit.  And sure enough, a graduate named Nick Becker objected to the prayer.  The ACLU swooped in to back him up--and school officials backed down.   Julie was told that instead of a prayer, she could invite the graduates and their families to participate in 30 seconds of "silent reflection."   It turned out to be the noisiest "silent reflection" in history.   When Julie asked the crowd to stand and begin the reflection, a man in the audience began to pray out loud:   "Our Father, Who art in heaven . . ."   Instantly, large numbers of the 4,000 parents and students in attendance picked up the prayer, until it echoed all over the auditorium. Nick Becker, the student who had objected to prayer in the first place, stormed out of the building.   It appears that anonymous man in the crowd, not unlike Rosa Parks, had decided he'd had enough. So he simply followed his conscience, regardless of the consequences.   In the aftermath of the prayer, the ACLU, knowing it didn't have a legal leg to stand on, resorted to meaningless rhetoric. One spokesman said the "real  loser here is the Constitution and the right of people to express dissent." Another said he would be "investigating the incident."   Well, this is laughable. Since the mass prayer was legally protected speech, there's nothing to investigate.   As for the anonymous man who started the prayer, his vocal disobedience to the school district's ruling against student-led prayer deserves enthronement alongside Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat-- and the colonists who tossed tea into Boston Harbor.   It is such moments, punctuating the decades and  centuries of our history, that makes America a great nation--the greatness we celebrate this weekend on Independence Day.   It seems obvious that most Americans would like to have some kind of prayer during significant occasions like graduations.   That desire is both legitimate and legal.   Even nonbelievers ought to respect the majority's traditions and public religious ceremonies, rather than stifling genuine populism for fear of offending one or two students--or the ACLU.   We Christians need to assert ourselves in the public  square in ways that are legal, just, and respectful.   So three cheers for the students and parents of Calvert County High School.   As far as I'm concerned, whoever started that prayer deserves a Congressional Gold Medal.   I don't expect him to get one, but I do expect him to get a golden crown from the King of Kings.


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(posted 20 April 2003)