We will never see the end of it. It is the most epic struggle since Satan rose against God in Paradise Lost.
Well, maybe there is no reason to cry, “Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour,” for today’s adversaries are somewhat less mighty than his protagonists. On the one hand, we have the ACLU, and on the other, public officials of the Bible belt.
So this is no occasion for immortal verse, or even deathless prose. We are talking about a spat in Bossier City.
It is the latest chapter in a saga that seems bound to span all eternity. Disputes over religion in schools define life in the South, with the action seemingly at its fiercest either in St. Tammany Parish or northwest Louisiana.
The ire of the ACLU this time is directed at Airline High School, where the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been allowed to set up prayer boxes. A prayer box, apparently, is a receptacle where requests for divine intercession are posted. Presumably, in this case, the Lord is frequently entreated to let the Airline High quarterback complete many passes.
That is not the ACLU’s only beef, for the principal, Jason Rowland, has been known to invoke God on the school website. The ACLU’s cease-and-desist letter to the Bossier Parish School Board is accompanied by a photo of a Rowland posting that concludes, “The future starts today — may God bless you all.”
The vast amounts of time and money spent on such disputes have clearly not reduced enmities, and both sides claim the First Amendment is on their side.
With the schools denouncing a supposed threat to religious freedom, and the ACLU insisting on a strict separation of church and state, a rational accommodation may forever prove elusive. The ACLU usually prevails when it takes or threatens legal action, but a new challenge will arise every time, and so it will be so long as Christians believe they must answer to a higher authority than the U.S. Constitution.
The law, however, is clear enough after so many years of litigation. What it boils down to is that students cannot be denied the right, say, to pray of their own accord, provided they do not disrupt classes, but school authorities may not encourage or endorse religious observances. Certainly, gray areas will always emerge, but the governing principles are pretty well set. A certain amount of goodwill on either side would remove any need to bring in the lawyers most of the time. But that can’t happen when the sides view each other with incomprehension and hostility.
Many of the Christians denounce the ACLU online as “socialist,” but that is just an all-purpose pejorative term these days. It makes no sense, because civil rights and free markets have always flourished simultaneously.
Still, the ACLU sure doesn’t miss an opportunity to get upset. There are bigger threats to the republic than a few prayer boxes in a high school, and all but the crabbiest of unbelievers would surely prefer to live and let live. Still, the wall of separation is an important principle, and the ACLU evidently believes you can’t be too vigilant.
Certainly the proselytizers will never quit, having being taught they have an obligation to spread the Word of God and help the rest of us avoid damnation. They naturally do not believe that Christianity can be turned off once they pass through the school doors. But God does not sign Rowland’s paychecks, and secular authority is clearly on the ACLU’s side.
Rabble-rousing politicians, such as Bobby Jindal, are forever telling us that religious freedom is under threat in this country, but this is all bunkum. The wall of separation has hardly stifled faith, for America is way more religious than countries with an established church.
Take, for instance, Britain, where the main opposition party, Labour, has just elected a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who promptly refused to sing the national anthem at a World War II memorial service, because it is called “God Save the Queen.” This should have come as no surprise since it was known before the election that he is not only a socialist but an atheist and a “republican” in the British sense, meaning that he wants to oust the monarchy.
Such a man would never be elected to public office in this country. In fact, he is widely distrusted over there, too, and nobody thinks that, with him in charge, Labour has a prayer.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.