March 11, 2011

The Direction of Imposition with Cranston Prayer

Justin Katz

The debate over a banner with a prayer in a Cranston public school — which the ACLU attempted to bully the district into moving with the threat of a lawsuit and which the school committee has voted to defend — makes very stark the contrast of the sides. On one side is the fact that public statements of religion were once part of the culture, and that this particular prayer is interwoven with the history of the school:

The students picked the school colors and the mascot and, following models from other schools in the district, a prayer and creed.

Originally, Bradley said, the prayer banner and creed were stored in the school building. In 1962, Bradley said, students started reciting the prayer instead of "Our Father" as part of their morning exercises. And, in 1963, when the auditorium opened its doors, the prayer and creed were affixed to the walls of the auditorium as a gift from the first graduating class.

On the other side is the assertion by an aggressive minority that merely being in the presence of such a banner somehow forces them to do something against their religious nonbeliefs:

"This prayer endorses religion. It endorses a specific religion," said [sophomore Jessica] Ahlquist, who is an atheist. The prayer, she says, "is discriminating against us."

For "a majority to say that you can take away a minority right, it's wrong," Ahlquist said. "It's also un-American."

There is no minority right being taken away. Students are not forced to recite the prayer. They are not forced to stand silent while others recite it. They are merely required to acknowledge that belief in God is a significant part of the school, city, state, nation, and civilization's heritage and, indeed, present culture and accept that they have no right to unilaterally erase its markers.

That's what really underlies the broader movement to strike religiosity from the public square: a claim to a special right to forbid the majority from acknowledging its shared faith, even to the degree that historical expressions thereof must be completely erased — wiped out. The zealotry of this movement is so strong that the ACLU will now harm real, present students in the Cranston district, as well as the employees and taxpayers of that community, by forcing the district to pay for a legal defense simply because the most local, discrete tier of government — where the inherent self-definition of democracy should be greatest — refuses to bow to a powerful national cult.

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"a powerful national cult"


Posted by: Monique at March 11, 2011 7:51 AM

There is no minority right being taken away. Students are not forced to recite the prayer. They are not forced to stand silent while others recite it. They are merely required to acknowledge that belief in God is a significant part of the school, city, state, nation, and civilization's heritage and, indeed, present culture and accept that they have no right to unilaterally erase its markers.

Would you stand by this statement if the majority were Muslim and the wall ornament was a quote from the Qur'an?

My Lord! Open up for me my heart.
And ease for me my task.
And untie the knot of my tongue.
That they may understand my speech.

Qur'an - 20:25-28

Posted by: Phil at March 11, 2011 8:17 AM

"They are merely required to acknowledge that belief in God is a significant part of the school, city, state, nation, and civilization's heritage and, indeed, present culture and accept that they have no right to unilaterally erase its markers."

Why are students required to acknowledge anything about God? Why would an atheist need to acknowledge that? Unless we're talking semantics and you want all students to be aware that God is a large part of many peoples' lives.

However, to take Phil's comment one step further, he mentioned "what if" muslims were in the majority, but would you be opposed to it if a school wanted to have a prayer up on the wall from the New Testament, one from the Old Testament in Hebrew, one from the Sutras, one from the Koran?

Sure, the majority here is Christian, but that's no real reason to passively suggest Christian beliefs.

What exactly was that reason Roger Williams came down here?

Posted by: Patrick at March 11, 2011 9:17 AM

This is the part of being a Republican that I have a problem with.
Wrap a prayer banner around your entire house if you want. Go for it.
But keep it there, though!
Are the religious people that insecure that they need these affirmations of faith to be within a stone's throw of everywhere they go?

Posted by: Bob at March 11, 2011 9:19 AM

Enough already...

This has ZERO to do with Religion and EVERYTHING to do with someone who needs to get in their "15 minutes of fame..."

I have witnessed what these people do all my life...

"I want to be different." types.

I guess they should step up to the plate then and pay for this suit on their own dime? Yeah, right....

As long as the ACLU or some other group is paying the freight, they are offended. If they had to pay for the lawsuit, I will guarantee you; it would all go away....

I wonder if someone will enlighten them to the fact that Moses and the 10 Commandments are on the façade of the US Supreme Court Building. Perhaps they should file a complaint about that??

Enough with the Political Correctness. It’s time to call these people malcontents for that’s what they really are and what it’s all about….

Posted by: Aldo at March 11, 2011 9:40 AM

Phil-i don't know if you're a Muslim and really could care less-your religion seems to be gadflyism,but anyhow-try putting up an excerpt IN PUBLIC from anything BUT the Koran in most Muslim countries.
Many Muslim countries allow houses of worship from other religions,and some don't.
Islam has no particular place in America's history before the last 50 years or so.
Buddhism actually has a much longer history in the US.
I notice you ignore that faith because it's easier to piss people off by quoting Islam.You're a sh*t stirrer,plain and simple,you rascal.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 11, 2011 9:58 AM

"...forcing the district to pay for a legal defense"

No one forced the district to do anything. They chose this fight. They always had the option to simply take the prayer banner down. That's not what they did, because I guess some folks think that spending money on gym decorations is more important than spending that money on the students.

Posted by: Russ at March 11, 2011 10:24 AM

I'm an atheist dues-paying member of a conservative Christian church (figure that one out).

It would be one thing if there was a prayer/religious group in the school that met weekly and put something like this up in their 'wall space', but it's not. When a school itself puts a banner up that starts with 'Heavenly Father', it's an overt endorsement of religion, and it gives people like me the willies.

I've also been omitting the (recent) McCarthyist addition of 'Under God' line from the pledge since I was twelve. When I was a scout leader, I made an effort to drop the 'God stuff' from our various daily oaths and sayings. I also allowed my scouts who weren't religious to stay back at the campsite during mandatory 'religious hours' at Yawgoog so we could engage in somber, silent reflection of the week's successes and failures.

Keep in mind, I'm in no way anti-religious, I'm anti-authoritarian, and putting 'heavenly father' banners up, adding 'God' to a pledge spoken at the opening of school, and mandating religious service attendance at camp all fall under the 'authoritarian' category for me.

You want religion in school? Fine, have it from students on the same terms that groups meet to discuss the environment or school governance, but keep it firmly separated from school administration.

Posted by: mangeek at March 11, 2011 10:27 AM

Quick question for you wackos that have a problem with this prayer - what happens to you when you pull money out of your pocket to buy something??? Do you get the heebiejeebies...start sweating...get goosebumps...have convulsions - because it says "In God We Trust" on every bill???

This is nothing more than f'n liberal stupidity. Like always, with liberals, it's how much morals can you afford.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at March 11, 2011 11:29 AM

Wow, I came here after reading the paper and think this sounds a lot like the gay marriage debate, just replace a few words.

It sounds sorta moronic that they would waste money on this.

Sure, cut some after school programs so we can fight a law suit that we will loose anyway! Do you really think 98% of the kids even care about the banner?

Let the kids decide, do a in school vote. It seems like you like putting things to a vote.
Money for programs or sports, or money for the banner?

Posted by: Swazool at March 11, 2011 11:49 AM

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
The city would be facing a suit no matter how the School Committee decided. If it wasn't the ACLU, it would be the American Center for Law and Justice (which is at least as well financed and willing to pivk fights, if not more so, than the ACLU).
Let's remember, Chris and Young are outside agitators. The students don't need a red-faced politician from out of town threatening them legally.
I agree with Swazool's idea - let the kids vote, and the two sides agree not to sue over the outcome. It's not like they're getting worthwhile leadership from the adults involved here.

Posted by: bella at March 11, 2011 12:14 PM

Voting on a banner is just as stupid as voting on marriage rights. The majority will always win.

Example, let's take a vote on whether Swazool must be legally required to give everyone who votes yes, $100.

I vote yes.

Anyone else?

Posted by: Patrick at March 11, 2011 12:15 PM

swazool-I grew up when all this reference to God,prayers,"My Country Tis of Thee"etc was routine and no one got hurt by it.meaning routine at school.My HS graduating class in '63 was the last to have a prayer.
Are things better now in the schools?
here's the deal-I don't think the 1st amendment was meant to cater to every little thing that annoys some malcontent.Why must we all dance tot he tune of one disaffected individual time and time again.
That individual might get offended,so what?More learned people than me have have stated many times that there is no right not to be offended.
There seem to be "professionally offended" people among us,like Michael Newdow.
I say to hell with them-they need to get a life.
No one is forcing anyone to read the banner or pray.That would be a problem.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 11, 2011 12:19 PM

Mike, it -DOES- bother me that in the 1950s we added 'In God We Trust' to the currency. It was a stupid, reactionary, impulsive, and silly move by the McCarthyists who thought that they were on a holy mission against Communism.

Go look at bills from before 1950, they don't have it, and it looks much better.

I don't want to live in a Godless country, but I sure as hell don't want the state getting involved with Godliness. You have beliefs in things that aren't empirically testable but are an essential part of the social fabric, go wild with them, but keep them off the public's property.

Posted by: mangeek at March 11, 2011 12:27 PM

Hey Folks, just a thought experiment... I'm going to have the city put up a sign on your sidewalk, right in front of your house; it's just going to have a Star of David on it to remind folks that Jews are a part of the world. Is that OK? You don't have to look at it if you don't like.

Posted by: mangeek at March 11, 2011 12:32 PM

Lifelong atheist here. My parents thought that it was a phase and forced me to keep practicing their religion against my will. I won't say that it backfired because I had already made up my mind on the issue, but it did cause a resentment that lasted until I was 21 or so. My advice to parents is to respect your children's choices as long as they aren't hurting anyone. Actually, that's my advice to everyone on any matter. But I digress.

There are two issues here:
1)Is it objectively okay to have a Christian prayer banner in a public school?
2)Is the response to the presence of said banner reasonable and proportional?

There is no good reason for having a prayer banner in a public school. It's totally unnecessary, and it smacks of obnoxious Christian in-your-faceism. The historical argument is very poor here because it only dates back to the 60's. I have no problem with keeping something around that's significantly older or has some other kind of historical value. I don't think non-Christian children can really get anything out of this banner except offense, unlike with a momument or something of that nature.

As for the second issue, yes, people overreact to these things. I personally don't really care because I'm difficult to offend and it isn't actually harming me in any way. I can appreciate the pretty Christmas lights and trees without having a fit. If somebody wishes me a happy Christmas, I thank them. It's always helpful toward your credibility if you can keep things in perspectie, and creating an outrage out of a molehill never wins you any friends. I advise people to sue only as a matter of last resort and desperation. Litigation sucks for everyone except the lawyers, so of course the ACLU would be happy to do so. And they'll probably win.

Posted by: Dan at March 11, 2011 1:02 PM

I can't say it what that prayer says. If you have a problem with that message, you have a serious problem, period. Get a life, losers!

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at March 11, 2011 2:54 PM

Mike, I don't believe in a heavenly father. My life is otherwise normal. Why is this a "problem" for anyone?

Posted by: Dan at March 11, 2011 4:00 PM

The bigger issue is this: Does government give contridictory messgages? It does.
In the U.S. Capitol statues of religious figures such as Junipero Serra, Mother Joseph, Father Damien, and Roger Williams are on display and images of at least two popes. Chaplains are employed by each House of Congress and prayers are said in the law making body of our country. While a religious figure, Williams was also a secular official as head of government in our state when it was a colony. I do not suggest this is a complete list of religious figures or references in the U.S. Capitol.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at March 16, 2011 10:55 AM
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