Decades ago, prayer was a common part of public school life in America, and the Bible often was a textbook.
Dial forward to 2015, and it’s a rare occurrence. And when it happens, it’s “student-led,” thanks to lawsuits by the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union and others.
The opponents insist that allowing prayer in school violates the U.S. Constitution’s stipulation that Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
But Oklahoma’s attorney general contends the Constitution also forbids schools from arbitrarily prohibiting certain speech, such as prayer.
He concludes that prayer cannot be banned.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s argument is getting an “attaboy” from Franklin Graham, the CEO of both the Samaritan’s Purse ministry and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
In a Facebook post, Graham said: “Religious freedom is under fire and anti-God groups are taking aim at our schools. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is standing up for religious freedom in his state – he told the state board that governs sporting activities that it can no longer ban student prayer at school sports events.”
Graham quoted Pruitt: “You just can’t uniformly, arbitrarily say, ‘We are going to allow all speech except religious speech.'”
“The Evidence Bible” includes, besides the King James version, dozens of articles addressing issues such as why suffering exists, what Muslims believe and scientific facts written millennia before man discovered them.
“And in Arkansas, Ashdown School District Superintendent Jason Sanders is not backing down after being threatened by the liberal Freedom from Religion Foundation over prayers by the high school band director as well as prayers at football games,” Graham wrote. “Sanders says they’ve broken no laws. ‘We feel like the freedom of our students to express themselves will hold up in a court of law,’ he said.”
Graham continued: “I thank God for individuals and communities like this who are not giving in to the whims of those who are trying to erase God from society and who are against everything related to the Name of Christ. The Bible says, ‘Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong’ (1 Cor. 16:13).”
CBN reported Pruitt’ told the state high school activities association its prohibition is simply too broad.
He noted the state allows open announcements in a public forum, so a prohibition on only religious speech unfairly and unconstitutionally discriminates against students of faith.
KTUL reported Pruitt has issued a nine-page legal opinion on the dispute.
He has explained: “Lawsuits could occur beyond individual lawsuits by students. I don’t know the outcome, but I would say the better thing is to prevent all of those things and to take the opinion and recognize what needs to change and be responsible about it and those changes.”
The Oklahoma activities association is reviewing the opinion.
WND recently reported a $7,500 fine was imposed against a Mississippi school for allowing an invocation at an optional awards ceremony for students. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves decided the Rankin County School District was in contempt of court because the prayer violated an earlier order.
“Schools owe a duty to all students to refrain from conduct which gives the appearance of advocating a particular religion,” wrote Reeves. “In fairness to and protection of all, they must remain neutral. This same duty is owed to the parents who submit their children to the protection of educators, entrusting that they will sharpen their academic minds.
“Parents don’t drop their children at the school house door to have their child’s religious beliefs affirmed, questioned or compromised.”
And last year a football player in Florida saw his team penalized after he prayed in the end zone after a touchdown.
But such limits on free speech aren’t always accepted.
There was the cheerleading squad that, after the school district banned prayer before athletic events, simply joined hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer in front of the crowd.
The response came just as the Freedom From Religion Foundation was sending letters to every school district in Tennessee complaining of prayer in schools.
And there also was valedictorian Roy Costner IV in Liberty High in South Carolina, who shredded his approved speech and rocked the crowd at his high-school commencement with a reading of the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Immediately after he took the stage, Costner explained to the crowd that his original graduation speech had been approved by the administration.
But he didn’t proceed as they had planned.
“Those that we look up to, they have helped carve and mold us into the young adults that we are today,” he said. “I’m so glad that both of my parents led me to the Lord at a young age.
Costner continued: “And I think most of you will understand when I say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done: on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us for our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
The crowd roared its support.