Republicans and the Public School Prayer Myth

Do what I say; not what I do.

Christine O’Donnell says we need more Jesus in schools to keep kids from killing each other. Apparently somebody forgot to tell Anthony Barbaro, who in 1974 went on a shooting spree while listening to Jesus Christ Super Star.

“We took the Bible and prayer out of public schools, and now we’re having weekly shootings practically,” she told an audience in August 1998 on ABC’s “Politically Incorrect.”

A year later that intellectual giant, Dan Quayle, who claimed the Columbine shootings occurred because we’ve turned our schools into “value-free” areas. Quayle claimed (while failing to give his son one) that children require “a moral education, but the legal aristocracy has obstructed their ability to receive it. It started nearly four decades ago with the outlawing of school prayer.“ 

Expert on Bringing Children Up Without Values

Living Medieval Relic Pat Buchanan agreed saying “God and the Ten Commandments and all moral instruction have been removed” from public schools.

Pat Buchanan. Lying Morality Expert

Of course, neither she nor Dan Quayle nor Pat Buchanan operate in a vacuum and this is a common cry on the right. But it is reasonable to look at the people making those most fuss.

I suppose it’s the school’s fault then that Quayle’s son turned into a person with a broken moral compass and who pretended to have children he doesn’t have in order to get a few extra votes. Of course, his daddy will ever have his name associated with lobbyist Paula Parkinson thanks to an ill-advised vacation package in 1980 so maybe sin doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Quayle home.

Let’s put that down to a lack of prayer in schools too. Apparently life was perfect and we lived in a Utopia before Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) and School Dist. of Abington Twp. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963).

And Pat Buchanan must be old enough to remember prayer in public schools but Pat lied to the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973, claiming to know nothing about dirty tricks performed by the Republican administration on Democrats.

On the day O’Donnell opened her mouth, Bill Maher and his guests were dismissive of her claim. Interestingly, though tolerance has been proven to be beneficial to society, even essential to the modern liberal democracy, she took the opposite stance, claiming that, “My point is there are consequences to our actions, and if we as a nation tolerate sin, generations to come will reap the effects.”

Sounds like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Let’s blame the Pagans or Dungeons & Dragons. Of course, the sin we must be sure not to tolerate is the sin identified as such by the likes of Christine O’Donnell. And keep in mind, Christine apparently doesn’t think it’s a sin to lie.

Or to lie about lying. She’s clearly in good company with Dan Quayle and Pat Buchanan, which all leads you to wonder what qualifies is morality in the Republican Party. Sure, you will say, Democrats lie too and you’d be right, they do. But the Democrats are not the ones running on a morality platform, preaching something they clearly do not believe in, insisting we all follow a set of rules they themselves have no intention of following. One set of rules for us, another for them.

Ironically, O’Donnell is a pro-gun candidate. She even garnered NRA endorsement this month for her Senate run. The NRA says she “will be a strong voice in fighting ongoing efforts by anti-gun politicians to dismantle the Second Amendment.”

Yeah, you know, I might guess that guns are more responsible for school shootings than lack of prayer.

This is the problem with the morally fixated Republican Party. They connect with the base but they don’t connect with facts very well – Stephen Colbert’s old “Reality has a liberal bias” complaint.

It does. Reality does have a liberal bias but that is only because liberalism is not seeking to impose dogmatic truths but rather relies on empirical evidence to show us how the world works. By adopting a dogmatic, ideological position and insisting on its truth regardless of the evidence, Republicans are courting trouble.

Because most of us do live in a fact-based world.

We’re not entitled to our own facts, as Al Franken reminded his GOP colleagues. And we’re not. There is only one science and there is one set of facts for everyone. The laws of physics apply equally; the universe works as it does across the board, without exception, and it does not brake for dogma. Nor can dogma legislate what form reality takes.

Totalitarian regimes, who, incidentally, take the same authoritarian stance the GOP has hung its hat on, have tried that road and come up short every time.

They would all do well to remember the lesson of Persian King Xerxes, who learned when he ordered the Hellespont scourged with 300 lashes for destroying his bridge that temper tantrums by mere mortals won’t change the reality of what the sea is.

These Republicans must be blind to the fact that Christians commit crimes, that the history of Christianity is a very violent history. For them to prove their argument they must somehow prove that the world was a less violent place forty years ago when in fact the opposite is the case. The world has become less violent and that demonstrably thanks to the spread of liberal democracy, not increased prayer or the spread of Christianity.

If Christianity was going to wipe out violence it would have done so when all Europe was Christian and it was illegal to be anything else. This is not to knock Christianity; no other religion has managed to eliminate crime either, but it’s time to face the fact that public praying didn’t get the job done then and it won’t get the job done now.

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12 Replies to “Republicans and the Public School Prayer Myth”

  1. I fail to understand what prayer in school has to do with anything. I fail to understand why the school is expected to be a center for religious learning. Religion has nothing to do with school, religion should be taught and is taught in the church and home.

    There was a time when the only people going to school were “American christians” and it was rare to find other kids of other ethnic backgrounds in school. But that time was long gone a long time ago. Religion has no place in schools and those who say it does are simply refusing to do the jobs at home they want the schools to do for them.

    Why do they expect teachers who get an education to teach, be their nuns, ministers and priests? Are all religions the same?

    Claiming that religion not being in school causes shootings and killings is merely a strawman for the fact people are not doing their jobs as parents.

  2. Didn’t the VT shooter claim it was Jesus who compelled him to do what he did in the tape he mailed to the press?

    On this topic I really don’t care if children pray in school. In fact for Muslims since they have to do it five times a day it’d be almost impossible not to. It just shouldn’t be forced upon the students by the staff.

    But of course, you allow people to pray in schools, it’s not enough to make a zealot staff member happy, and it’s only a matter of time before she’s angrily asking a student. “Why haven’t I seen you pray?” People don’t trust other people unless they bow before them to pray for God, I think these people forget who God is, and it’s not them.

    You can’t force prayer out of schools just as you can’t force it into schools. For if someone wants to pray, they’ll pray. I mean since when have students ever followed the rules to the letter? As long as they don’t know, it won’t hurt them now will it…

    Oh yeah… but we can never pray silently and alone anymore… we need to feel we are part of a group (I blame evolution on that one).

  3. I apologize for the improper pronoun usage referring to a zealot staff member. A combination of Steven King novels, growing up in a school with mostly female staff I think had an effect on my subconscious, a male would be just as capable of performing such an act.

  4. That’s the thing…if we’re going to go by simple percentages, most crimes in the U.S. must be committed by those who are at least nominally Christian, and as we can see, Evangelicals and other morality preachers are as prone to crime and sin as anyone else. I picked out these three simply because they are very obvious examples of what is wrong with the whole prayer program. And you’re exactly right when you say they won’t be satisfied simply by bringing prayer back into public schools. There are many shocking examples of proselytizing and coercion in what we are told is a sinfully secular United States.

  5. Absolutely, Shiva, and there was plenty of crime to go around in those halcyon days. But then, if we are to judge by Republican rhetoric, history never happened.

  6. “liberalism is not seeking to impose dogmatic truths but rather relies on empirical evidence to show us how the world works. By adopting a dogmatic, ideological position and insisting on its truth regardless of the evidence, Republicans are courting trouble.” You knocked my socks off with this, Hraf. Excellent.

    It’s illogical to assume that prayer would change “sin” as the Republicans demonstrate every day. They might have other arguments for this, but they’re not making them either.

  7. Thanks, Sarah. It’s all that illicit knowledge we ‘uns who treasure education end up with. Heads filled with knowledge we shouldn’t have when we should just be believing the dogma.

    The Republicans aren’t much good with arguments, are they? They prefer assertions and expect us all to believe them just because they said it.

  8. As a retired teacher I can tell you this is a non-issue because every morning at the school from which I retired in GA last year, there was a “Moment of Silence,” during which students could pray silently, if they chose to do so. There were, and still are, Christian clubs at the school, even one known as “The Fellowship of Christian Athletes.” In addition, students and sponsors were/are free to meet before and/or after school for prayer meetings. The existence of opportunities for prayer at the school had no effect/little on student behavior. I find it telling that those like Buchanan, Palin, O’Donnell, and others who say that a lack of prayer in schools causes students to kill others have zero experience in the field of education. They are making stuff up to persuade a certain group of voters to cast their votes for these faux conservatives who don’t live the values they espouse. I think they’d be surprised at the number of these Christians who think like they do who don’t show up at school activities to check on their kids’ behavior/grades. They also deny that there is a connection between the Christian right’s worship of guns, the ready availability of guns in their households, and their own violence-tinged rhetoric against those with whom they disagree. There have been several rw politicians/lawmakers/former lawmakers/pundits who have advocated using guns against their fellow citizens, among them Beck, Palin, Angle, and Michelle Bachmann.

  9. In developed countries around the world prayer is not part of the school day and their little savages do not go around killing each other. There is rampant violent mental illness in the US among adults and children, and no one is willing to recognize it.

  10. Majii, thank you for providing your insight. I had two children in school in the 90s and I have one in school now and none of this was ever an issue. I realize things are more violent than they once were, or seem to be. My old high school certainly had more problems after I graduated by I left in ’75, well after school prayer ended, and there was no violence at all, so that certainly fails to argue for a correlation.

    As you say, none of these people are education experts and they DO make things up. And as you say, the gun culture is a right-wing property.

  11. You make a good point. Comparing the US to other country’s in gun related murders, we are so far ahead of everyone else its not worth charting them. Our schools in the major cities and inner cities are fair game for the number of kids carrying guns. The parents are not doing their jobs. You cant blame this on prayer in school, blame it on the state of our cities and the parents.

    And the obvious availability for anyone who wants one, of guns. How proud the guns, babies and Jesus crowd must be

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