At times you get the feeling that liberals regard prayer as a threat
to the First Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court has led the way, moving from the position that
public-school prayers are unconstitutional to its latest refinement,
the view that student-led prayers at public high-school football games
are also, by extension, unconstitutional. After all, the loudspeakers
are paid for with public money and the prayers are uttered with the
implicit approval of the school.
This new addition to the liberal Deposit of Faith has provoked a reaction,
especially in the South, where folks tend to feel that separation of
church and state must not be construed to mean separation of church
and football. Now the people in the stands are praying aloud together
Needless to say, The New York Times is in an editorial lather
about it, seeing these prayers as the seeds of another Spanish Inquisition.
The Paper of Record admits that voluntary prayer is probably constitutional,
but feels that that doesn’t make it less menacing. Or less unmannerly:
just think of the hurt feelings of non-Christians in the stands who
feel excluded when the Christian hordes launch into the Lord’s
“It’s not a legal issue, but a sensitivity issue,” says
Jay Kaiman of the Anti-Defamation League in Atlanta. So the Lord’s
Prayer is now insensitive? Interesting. Lots of people take the Lord’s
name in vain without worrying about Christian sensitivities; Christians
seem to be the only minority Hollywood doesn’t mind offending — or
positively delights in offending. What does the Anti-Defamation League
have to say about that? Or would swearing and blaspheming be “free
“Jewish organizations say the prayer movement is spreading a
divisive message,” reports the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. It
seems that exercises of First Amendment freedoms are “divisive” only
when Christians exercise them.
If only liberals would read the First Amendment as closely as they
do the Second Amendment. They insist that “the right to keep
and bear arms” is qualified by the purpose of “a well-
regulated militia.” Why, when it comes to separating church and
state, do they ignore the words “Congress shall make no law respecting”?
Why do they think “Congress” — the legislative branch
of the federal government — means state and local governments
and their schools? Why do they pretend that the slightest encouragement
of religion amounts to an “establishment of religion,” when
the specific historical meaning of “establishment” is so
clear — as witness the fact that Congress itself has always had
chaplains to open sessions with a prayer?
Of course all these church-state quarrels could be avoided if we separated
school and state. No government — federal, state, or local — has
any business molding children’s minds. Yet most people take for
granted that the government is and must be responsible for education
at every level, from pre-school to grad school.
When you combine that assumption with the separation of church and
state, religious education — the most important education of
all — is squeezed out. As C.S. Lewis noted, the modern world
insists that religion be a purely private affair, then shrinks the
area of privacy to the vanishing point. When the state moves in, separation
means forcing the church to move out. And the state keeps moving into
new domains which it claims as its own.
Which suggests another question. Why don’t liberals fret about
transgressions of the Tenth Amendment as much as they worry about transgressions
of the First? Is that limitation on the federal government’s
powers less important, less comprehensive, less binding, less central
to the very nature of this Republic?
While the First Amendment has become the subject of Talmudic elaborations,
the Tenth Amendment has dwindled into a dead letter. The great principle
of dividing and dispersing power — the very genius of the original
American system — is at least as vital to freedom as the specific
protections of the First Amendment; in fact it includes them, since
if the federal government were confined to its enumerated powers it
would have no authority to infringe freedom of religion, speech, press,
and assembly. If we took the Tenth seriously, we wouldn’t need
But try explaining that to a liberal.
This column was originally published by Griffin Internet Syndicate
on September 7, 2000.
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