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Is Prayer Coercion? The Case of Lee v. Weisman

In 1992 the United States Supreme Court issued its controversial majority opinion in the famous prayer case of Lee v. Weisman (1992).

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U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., November 27, 2017. |

The prayer in question was so innocuous in language that it was impossible for the hearers to know if it was a Christian prayer, a Jewish prayer, or a Muslim prayer. But Mr. Weisman complained that the prayer offended him because it violated the "the establishment clause" of the First Amendment which provided that government shall not establish a religion.

A majority of the Supreme Court justices agreed with Mr. Weisman.

In the Court's majority opinion, the justices reasoned that though the prayer had no sectarian content, made no demands on any hearer, and everyone who heard it was free to ignore it, the very fact the prayer was audibly heard in the public square made it "psychological coercion."

According to Stanley Fish in his book: How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, the idea that audible prayers equate to psychological coercion was too much for Justice Antony Scalia.

After citing a fellow jurist's complaint that establishment clause jurisprudence was becoming so byzantine that it was in danger of becoming a form of interior decorating, Justice Scalia fired back this zinger: "Interior decorating is a rock-hard science compared to psychology practiced by amateurs." 

Fast forward 25 years to 2017.

University of Oklahoma regent Kirk Humphreys was asked to step down from his position as a regent of the University of Oklahoma because of what he publicly said about homosexuality and morality.

Kirk Humphreys believes that the Bible gives the standard for what is right and wrong. And so, Kirk Humphries views homosexuality as a sin against God. It's a given that some people will disagree with Kirk Humphreys.

What I find silly is the claim that Kirk Humphreys' words hurt people. People are saying things like:

"His words were far from respectful and hurt many people who heard them."

"Humphreys' harmful words cannot be dismissed without measurable repercussions."

"His words are filled with disgust and hatred and harm the lives of LGBT Oklahomans across the state."


We have a bunch of amateur psychologists in Oklahoma.

Words are the flowers to the root of ideas.

In a free society, one must learn how to walk in the garden of ideas. If a flower is personally odious, you must learn to ignore it and move on without attempting to pull up the root by force because it is not your garden.

The world's garden of ideas is full of flowers of differing varieties, and one person's rose may be offensive to another person's nose.

But ideas don't kill.

It is the desire to oppress or to suppress ideas which becomes the first step toward the removal of people holding to differing viewpoints

Be it fascist dictatorships on the right or brutal communist aristocracies on the left, suppression and oppression are the twin guns of control.

But a free country is free because its people are free to believe differently without fear of removal.

Universities shape future government leaders, and because our universities have lost academic freedom (e.g., "the freedom and ability to hold leadership positions while believing differently"), it will not be long before the country we love loses our freedoms.

Less than 40 years ago Dr. William Banowsky, President of Oklahoma University refused to grant university recognition to a gay and lesbian student group at OU called the Gay Peoples' Union. Dr. Banowsky would not allow homosexual clubs to use campus facilities for meetings, receive university funds, or even be part of the official student handbook listing officially recognized sororities, fraternities or social clubs.

Listen to what Dr. Banowsky told the students and regents of OU in 1978:
"It is my conclusion that granting official institutional license to any campus homosexual organization is not in the best interest, short-term or long-term, to the university."

Whether you agree with Dr. Banowsky or not (and I disagreed with him), within a generation the University of Oklahoma has now reversed itself completely.

Now, a Christian (Kirk Humphreys) who believes what the Bible says about homosexuality cannot serve as a regent of Oklahoma.


Because people are "hurt by Kirk Humphrey's words."

Psychology being practiced by amateurs.

What harms all Oklahomans is the loss of freedom at the University of Oklahoma.

A person who enjoys a homosexual relationship will not like any person who expresses the belief that homosexuality is unnatural and a sin against God. But for Christians, the Bible teaches in Romans 1:26-28 and I Corinthians 6:9-10 that homosexuality is contrary to God's design and those who continue in it will "not inherit the kingdom of God."

For homosexuals, the notion that what they enjoy is wrong in God's eyes is incompatible with their way of life and their way of thinking.

Disagreement is part of the world in which we live.

Learn to live with it.

The real problem at the University of Oklahoma is the suppression and oppression of differing ideas, the removal of those who believe differently than the majority, and the support of psychology practiced by amateurs.

Wade Burleson is a writer, historian and pastor. You can find him at

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