- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

God has made a comeback at the nation's public schools as students and educators look for spiritual solace in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Despite Supreme Court guidelines that say mandatory prayer cannot be conducted at public schools, some students, teachers and administrators around the nation have momentarily bypassed constitutional concerns, praying openly at assemblies, in classrooms and at sporting events, asking God for support and protection.
At Waxahachie High School in Texas, athletes, cheerleaders and members of the band broke into an open recitation of the Lord's Prayer as they gathered in the end zone before a football game last week.
In Florida, teachers and staff at J.D. Floyd Elementary School gathered for a group prayer session a week after the attack, and two students at Hernando County's Springstead High School were allowed by administrators to lead an all-day prayer vigil in the library, the St. Petersburg Times reported.
"Our kids today are reaching out for something, and the reality is that these kids are seeking peace the real peace that is provided by God," observes the Rev. David Overstreet of the National Network of Youth Ministries in Rancho Carmel, Calif.
"I think that's a major reason why there's a heightened involvement on our school campuses," he said.
The spiritual revival coupled by massive displays of patriotism shows no sign of abating soon.
School marquees boast "God Bless America" and several local school boards have voted to revive pre-meeting prayers.
Students turned out in droves at a Sept. 19 "See You at the Pole" event, an annual gathering that encourages students to assemble around the flagpole at their local schools and pray together before classes.
This year's theme "Desperate for God" chosen well in advance of the disaster, now rings hauntingly appropriate, Mr. Overstreet said.
"It's sad that it takes a tragedy to open our eyes to real personal and spiritual needs that exist in our youth, or even in adults for that matter."
But this revival has not gone uncontested. In Rocklin, Calif., the ACLU complained that Breen Elementary's display of "God Bless America" on the school marquee was "a hurtful, divisive message," the Sacramento Bee reported
In a letter last week to the school administration, ACLU staff counsel Margaret Crosby called Breen's "God Bless America" message a "clear violation of the California and United States constitutions, as well as the California Education Code." The message "must be replaced immediately," the ACLU demanded.
Barry Lynn, who heads the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says his group has heard few complaints that schools aren't enforcing rules on religious expression since Sept. 11.
His group supports strict guidelines on religious liberty in schools, but they plan no new lawsuits over actions that have occurred in recent weeks. Courts, he said, would be unlikely to take action against isolated incidents of at-school worship, so his organization is monitoring complaints and will send out letters cautioning school officials about future inappropriate religious conduct.
"I do think that some schools are considering patriotism and religion the same thing, acting as if you cannot be patriotic unless you are also conventionally religious," he said. "That is a major fallacy.
"We don't think you can suspend the religious liberty rules for the country because of a national tragedy," Mr. Lynn said. "I think people should understand that we don't change the rules about fundamental constitutional rights."
Former California Rep. Willliam F. Dannemeyer, who leads Americans for Voluntary School Prayer, strongly disagrees. The heightened spiritual awareness fuels his call for a constitutional amendment to restore prayer in schools. He says the time couldn't be better for congressional leadership from both parties to respond.
"The issue really is school prayer, but it is broader than that: whether we as a people believe that God exists," said Mr. Dannemeyer, an Orange County resident who represented California's 39th District for 14 years.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide