Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City, declared, “When we removed prayers from schools, weapons entered schools… Don’t mention the lack of a church-state separation to me. The body is the state. The heart is the church. When the body’s heart is removed, the body expires.” The liberal media immediately went into outrage mode, as usual. The remarks were deemed “controversial” and “alarming” by CNN; The New York Times chose the word “surreal,” while an MSNBC opinion columnist referred to Adams’s “theocratic tendencies.”
Nonetheless, Mayor Adams had a point when he questioned the sacred “separation of church and state” in the secular world. Although it is stated explicitly in the Constitution that “Congress shall make no legislation respecting an establishment of religion,” the phrase “separation of church and state” is not found anywhere in our founding texts.
Nonetheless, the idea has been applied to establish a “religion of secularism”—exactly the result that the Supreme Court has frequently forewarned against for decades. In my soon-to-be-released book, “Serenity in the Storm: Surviving amid Chaos by Relying on Christ,” I examine how, in contrast to what our Founders intended, God has been marginalized in society.
Over 60 years after prayer was banned from public schools, America has witnessed overt “hostility” toward religion rather than “neutrality.” A glance at the case law relating to faith in our country’s schools reveals the whole picture.
For instance, the court invalidated an Alabama legislation that permitted 60 seconds of quiet “for voluntary prayer or meditation” in class in 1985. Even though it was “nonsectarian [and] non-proselytizing,” student-led prayer before a football game at Santa Fe High School was not permitted. A rabbi also couldn’t pray for a public middle school graduation.
The Virginia Military Institute could also not lead its cadets in a regular prayer before meals. When the court overturned a Louisiana statute known as “The Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act,” which required that creationism be taught in schools where evolution is introduced, the court’s antipathy toward faith found its way into the curricula.
In a more thorough examination of the instances above, Pew notes that “[a]s a result [of the evolution ruling], school boards have lost virtually every dispute over curriculum changes aimed to contradict evolution, including disclaimers in biology textbooks.”
Even though, according to Pew, “It expressly forbids the display of a Christmas nativity scene in public schools,” a federal court in New York upheld the New York City Department of Education’s policy that permitted “[t]he display of secular holiday symbol decorations…includ[ing but not limited to], Christmas trees, menorahs, and the [Islamic] star and crescent.”
While this happened in Denver, fifth-graders were allowed to read any book they wanted during a 15-minute “silent reading period,” A teacher was barred from reading his Bible aloud. However, the school prohibited Mr. Roberts, the teacher, from teaching from his desk while allowing him to “actively educate about Navajo Indian religion” and “read silently a book dealing with the life of Buddha and put it on his desk for some period of time.” Although the teacher, Mr. Roberts, “never read from the Bible aloud or overtly proselytized about his faith to his students,” the court determined that Mr. Roberts had improperly “created the appearance that Mr. Roberts was seeking to advance his religious views” because he had a poster referring to “the hand of God” in his classroom while reading his Bible in private.
As you can see, courts all around the nation have been gradually eroding the freedom of religion in our schools for decades. Ironically, the court warned against eliminating religion in a way that would build a so-called “religion of secularism” in Schempp, Murray O’Hair’s case that ended prayer in schools.
The majority in Schempp went on to make a very significant cautionary statement after citing the 1952 case Zorach v. Clauson: “We agree, of course, that the State may not establish a’religion of secularism’ in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do.”
Unfortunately, the court’s caution against a “religion of secularism” went unheeded because that is exactly what has emerged in American society, including the country’s schools.
But glancing at history and tradition reveals that the Founding Fathers had the opposite in mind. In the case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, a parent claimed that hearing students in the classroom say “under God,” even if they weren’t reciting it, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Interestingly, the infamously liberal Ninth Circuit agreed that the phrase “under God” was against the law, albeit the court eventually reversed itself. The parent who filed the lawsuit lost on a technicality when the Ninth Circuit’s initial decision reached the Supreme Court, so the justices were not required to address the case’s main issue. Nonetheless, four judges wrote concurring opinions saying that saying the oath in class did not go against the Constitution.