Politics and religion don’t mix — easier said than done. True, there is the separation clause that ostensibly keeps religion — instruction and display — out of schools. The clause also prevents public display of religion on public property. Christmas, however, being the only religious national holiday, gives rise to controversy over religious displays, except for lights and perhaps modest articles of faith. The tradition of a national holiday lends genuineness to the posture that the nation is founded on Christian values. That Congress always opens its sessions with prayer is further evidence of the Judea-Christian foundation but also contradictory. The argument goes that what’s good for congress men and women should be good for children at school.
The actual thesis for separation is economics. The tax dollar is not to support religious institutions. In this sense, neither should congressional time afforded by taxes be permitted, including the “voluntary prayer” in the office of the attorney general. These venial issues are seldom questioned, since carried out by adults and not to be equated with the more serious issue of conducting prayer for impressionable minds at schools. Yet if the tax dollar is wasted in behalf of one faith, then how can Islamic prayer or Zen contemplation be prevented in a public building?
What actually is the intent of prayer but to give persons a moment to pause and set the mind to conceive of good things for the work day? And if this be so, then why not for children as well? Should they not pause to cleanse their minds of the many distractions during their growth? The mind of any age needs time for reflection, but the trouble with prayer is that it is not cleansing the mind but actually adding things to it. On the other hand what is wrong with that? — is it any different from opening a class or a congressional session with an instructional or inspiring poem? Actually that is not the problem: rather, who decides what prayer, what poem, or any inspired work.
The larger problem for “separation” is in the individual. If one goes through life having strong beliefs in God or a sect, how can he/she possibly cull a sense of citizenry from belief — are they not at one? It depends on the sophistication of the citizen to draw lines when faith and politics conflict. The fanatic of either side blurs the fine lines. The Koran, as well as the Bible, does not belong in the elementary or middle school classroom for the same reason an ideological text is precluded. In senior high school it should be offered as an elective of comparative religion, and possibly world history suggested reading, for purely intellectual interests, not proselytization. Such reasonableness usually stops at the church portals through which single mindedness begins.
Though religion is here to stay in the minds of the voter, the nation has an obligation to refine — not brainwash — the body politic with a rational balance of faith and reason.
Copyright © 2004 Richard R. Kennedy All rights reserved. Revised: January 3, 2004.