Do Our Schools Have a Prayer?

Well, it's happened again. Another school shooting. Lives shattered forever by a lone gunman who allegedly took his vengeance into his own hands. "Our family is torn by this loss," lamented one of the victims' survivors.

Apparently, the 17-year old shooter at Chardon High School in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio was picked on by some fellow students. He was described by classmates as a "bullied outcast."

In a recent Facebook entry, he posted his rage: "Die, all of you."

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On Monday, February 27, he sought revenge on some fellow students. And now, as of this writing, two are dead, and others were left wounded.

I remember after Columbine I did some television interviews in Littleton, Colorado (in the greater Denver area) with some of the surviving family members of those shot and killed in the worst school shooting in our history.

One young man who was familiar with the school and its environment before the 1999 shootings told me something I have never forgotten. He said that one of the killers---long before he and his comrade took revenge into their own hands---had been humiliated in the cafeteria, in front of scores of his classmates by a fellow student (a jock) who poured a milk shake all over him (the shooter-to-be). You will recall that shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold sought out to kill jocks, among other victims.

None of this is to imply that any of these shootings are justified. Even if they have been bullied by classmates, these murderers are the ultimate bullies---as they play judge, jury, and executioner. Many times their victims are purely innocent, as was the case in Columbine.

There were never school shootings when prayer was in school. Nothing even remotely like it. But now, for the most part, God has been thrown out of our public schools, and they have had to install the metal detector instead. Even that is not fail-proof.

Virtue guru, Bill Bennett, once told me "Does anybody really have a worry that the United States is becoming overly pious? That our young people are dedicating too much of their lives to prayer and to reflection? That teenagers in this country are preoccupied with thoughts of eternity and their own readiness for eternity?"

I find it ironic that yesterday's shooting would occur in the shadow of the 50th anniversary of the infamous school prayer decision. In June 1962, in Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court ruled that schools could not officially participate in prayer.

Specifically, the High Court banned this seemingly innocuous prayer: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country."

At that time, only one Supreme Court Justice dissented (and Byron White, new to the court, didn't vote). "I think this decision is wrong," said the lone dissenter, Justice Potter Stewart ["While Most Believe in God..." Newsweek, July 9, 1962, p. 44.].

At that time, Newsweek quotes Stewart as saying he couldn't see how "'an official religion' is established by letting those who want to say a prayer to say it. Citing several examples of U.S. institutions that invoke prayer (including the Supreme Court itself, which opens with the words, 'God save the United States and this honorable Court'), the Ohio jurist summed up his attitude with a line from a ten year old Court decision [Zorach v. Clauson]: 'We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.'"

My late pastor, Dr. D. James Kennedy, once told me this (in the mid-1990s), on the subject of school prayer: "I am very definitely in favor of school prayer. I favor a voluntary, student led prayer. I believe the Jew should have the right to pray to God in his way, the Muslim to Allah, and the Christian to Jesus Christ. I think there's a definite need for us to develop a little tolerance in this country about religion and not feel we have to throw a tantrum every time somebody prays in a way that we don't particularly approve or like. Tolerance is supposedly this great ideal that is so important. Our culture is always blasting people who are intolerant, but when it comes to religion, then intolerance seems to be the thing to have."

Certainly, voluntary prayer, even at school, should fall under the first amendment protection---as part of the "free exercise" of religion clause.

Our schools today don't have a prayer, yet the Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. To me, this is like a baseball player who supposedly hits a home run but is called out because when he ran around the bases, he did not in fact touch first base.

As long as our schools don't have a prayer, I suppose some of them need to have a sign installed out in front: Enter at your own risk.

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