Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom
Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom

Do Our Schools Have a Prayer?

by Jerry Newcombe, D. Min.

The June 25, 1962 ruling by the Supreme Court was Engel v. Vitale, the first in a string of decisions that seemed to rule God and the Bible out of our public schools. Justice Hugo Black wrote the Engel decision, saying, “a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion”—though allowing schoolchildren to pray is hardly a “union of government and religion.”

Specifically, the High Court banned this seemingly innocuous prayer: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country.”
Justice Potter Stewart, the lone dissenter, wrote, “On the contrary, I think that to deny the wish of these schoolchildren to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our Nation.” That heritage is quite considerable.

After the ruling, in an article on July 9th, Newsweek quoted Justice Stewart as saying he couldn’t see how “‘an official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer to say it. Citing several examples of U.S. institutions that invoke prayer (including the Supreme Court itself, which opens with the words, ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’), the Ohio jurist summed up his attitude with a line from a ten year old Court decision [Zorach v. Clauson]: ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’”

The bigger issue in this case is the process of secularization it set in motion. The Supreme Court seemed to begin a process of censorship of God in the public schools that continues to this day.

The next year, the high court said you can’t read the Bible in the schools—for devotional purposes—but they explicitly said that objective “study of the Bible or of religion” is to be allowed in schools. But many schools eventually threw the Bible out entirely.

I know that there are many well-intentioned people who oppose any form of school prayer, but I view as dubious the foundation of much of the opposition—that is, that the founders of America intended any government endorsement of God (or even reference to God in the public arena) to be strictly forbidden.

The founders who gave us the First Amendment also passed the Northwest Ordinance, which states that schools should be encouraged in new states in order to teach “Religion, morality, and knowledge.” The founders did not intend religion to be banished from the schools.

When he was sworn in, George Washington said “it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe.”

Our Constitution, signed “in the year of our Lord” (referring to Jesus), is predicated on the Declaration of Independence, which says that our rights come from the Creator.

President Eisenhower said in 1955, “Without God, there could be no American form of Government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first—the most basic—expression of Americanism.”

His successor, John F. Kennedy, said, “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

But today, America has amnesia, and I believe the school prayer case was part of that forgetfulness. We have turned our back on God, and we are reaping the natural consequences.

After the Columbine massacre, Darryl Scott, father of a slain student, testified to Congress:

Your laws ignore our deepest needs,
Your words are empty air.
You’ve stripped away our heritage,
You’ve outlawed simple prayer.
Now gunshots fill our classrooms
and precious children die.

You seek for answers everywhere,
and ask the question “Why?”
You regulate restrictive laws
through legislative creed.
And yet you fail to understand
that God is what we need.

We have experienced more than a half-century during which time the public schools have effectively banished God and the Bible from them, and we see the negative results virtually every day. The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”n