Tennessee State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney wants to make sure high-school football fans can keep huddling up in prayer before games. In response to an ACLU letter to school superintendents discouraging school-sponsored public prayers, Delany has written one of his own.
“With a new week of football games set to kick off, we write today to tell you we stand with you and the millions of Tennesseans who want to express their rights and not cower (sic) to the liberal self-interests of a leftwing (sic) organization,” Devaney declaims.
The way he sees it, the fanatics at the ACLU fail to understand “a very basic principle about the First Amendment: It was written—not to protect government from religion—but to ensure religious freedoms are not violated by the government.”
Well, yes and no. Yes, the First Amendment was designed to ensure that religious freedom is not violated by the guvmint. No, it was not not meant to protect the government from religion. In other words, that was its chief purpose—to prohibit and forestall any state-sponsored religion. (The phrase “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” comes first, and though some people might take that to mean that Congress can’t forbid the official sanction of a religion, it actually means that Congress can’t allow it.)
Even the amendment’s second phrase (“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) is problematic for Devaney’s argument. Can a call for mass prayer at a game be considered “free”? Sure, you don’t have to participate, but few things are more awkward than having your eyes open when everyone else in the stadium has theirs closed—it’s like farting in church. So Devaney is disingenuous when he says that "Nothing in the Constitution prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday (sic)." (Getting sick of these “sics”? Tell Devaney to hire a ghostwriter.) “Voluntarily” is the crucial word.
What could the “liberal self-interests” of the ACLU be? Let’s assume that one of them is what Devaney implies—to abolish prayer. Following his line of reasoning, what if no one prayed? Then the ACLU would be out of commission, at least in that arena. How does that serve its self-interest?
Someday I’ll understand why I am commended by Christians to ask God for outcomes He has already decided. I’ll have to pray on it.