Is Praying a Crime?

By Cliff Springs

I just received an email from one of my dear friends from college.  Her father-in-law, Frank Lay, is principal at Pace High School in Pensacola, Florida.  My friend informed me that Lay and his athletic director, Robert Freeman, are facing criminal charges for saying a prayer before a meal to dedicate the completion of a new field house for the school. 

Make sure you caught that—CRIMINAL charges for saying a prayer.  A possible fine, jail time, or both.

This is not one of those stories passed around on the internet without names attached written about someone who knows someone who knows someone.  This is my friend’s father-in-law.  Her husband’s father.  I know her husband and met his father at their wedding.  This is all true and pretty incredibly terrifying to contemplate.

CRIMINAL charges—possible jail time—for saying a prayer.  Stop for a moment and think about this:  regardless of any details of the case, is there ANY situation in this country you can think of in which someone should face criminal prosecution for a prayer?! 

No, they didn’t pray then fire a gun or burn a cross or yell “fire” in the auditorium or slander someone or even litter.  No, they just prayed. 

I’m writing this in hopes that everyone who reads this will do the same—pray for these men and pray that Lady Justice takes off the dang blindfold so she can see the trash can where this case needs to be thrown.

Apparently, the seeds of this incident can be traced to—you guessed it—the ACLU.  In August of 2008, two Pace High School students and their parents sued the Santa Rosa School District, claiming that religion had been forced upon them at the school.  The school district had agreed to a temporary injunction while the case was being decided.  The ACLU claims this prayer violated the injunction.

I’ve admitted in previous articles that I’m no scholar of history, but I can’t find in the Constitution where someone has a right to not hear religion.  For religion to be forced upon someone, they would have to be required to participate.  Abstaining from a lunch blessing simply means that you keep your eyes open, don’t bow your head, and think about anything in the world you want to think about for the duration of this unbearable inconvenience of listening to someone talk to their Lord for… oh, maybe 30 seconds.

Let’s go to the source, the Constitution.  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  I’m scratching my head right now.  “Congress shall make NO LAW respecting an establishment of religion, or PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF” dangit!!!  It’s a good thing I’m a religious man, or I might have used some stronger language there.

For those of you who aren’t aware, for well over a hundred years, the states in this country DID have preferred religions.  Go back and read the article “We Don’t Live in a Democracy, Part 1” and you’ll see where we started to veer off track.  Our Founding Fathers didn’t want an all-encompassing federal government dictating everything to the individual states.  States were allowed to have state-sponsored religions and did.  The Constitution says “Congress shall make no law…”—it doesn’t say NOBODY can make such law.  They didn’t fear religion—they feared the federal government getting involved.

To quote the aforementioned article: “With the addition of the 14th Amendment in 1868, the Bill of Rights were essentially applied to states, binding state governments the same as they do the federal.  A 1913 Supreme Court ruling extrapolated this to mean that states—like the federal government—could no longer have state-sanctioned religions.”  This is when everything went way south in a handbasket.

What this has resulted in is a society in which legalism trumps common sense at every turn.  Much like the Pharisees in the Bible, we split hairs and split hairs and split hairs until the system is so convoluted that no human could possibly thrive.  A robot perhaps, but not the flawed, imperfect beings that we are.

There are things that can work in a community that can’t work for an entire nation—hence the dispersion of power between the feds and the states.  The federal government tries to please everybody.  Anyone with half a brain learned long ago that when you try to please everybody you end up pleasing nobody.  What happens in Los Angeles, California should not determine a standard to be applied in a remote community in Montana, West Virginia, or South Carolina.

This is a perfect example of a result illuminating the problem.  I have come to the conclusion that the bank and Wall Street bailouts were a mistake.  Follow the math here:  the feds give money to the banks.  The feds get money from taxpayers.  Where there is money, there are often strings attached—understandably.  If the taxpayers are bailing out Wall Street, then taxpayers should have a say-so about how things are run in these businesses—such as C.E.O.s and their salaries.  The logic makes sense.  But that’s exactly the problem.  When the federal government—rather than stockholders—starts dictating the hiring and compensation practices of business, something is horribly wrong.  I say this to point out my previous concern.  If you agree that government dictating who should be running a certain business is a bad, bad idea, then you have to backtrack until the real problem becomes clear.  The bailouts were a mistake.

Now let’s apply that to the Lay/Freeman case.  The Founding Fathers established—RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE—the first, the very first, number one, numero uno Amendment—freedom of religion.  The free exercise thereof.  Now, because of the Supreme Court precedent of incorporation and its flawed logic, we have a federal government actually prosecuting a high school principal for what?  Praying.  Exercising religion freely.

Imagine having that conversation with our Founding Fathers.  Imagine walking into that room when these divinely-inspired men were laying the foundation for this incredible country we live in.  Imagine telling them that 230-some years later, two men would face jail time for praying before lunch at a school.  They just might have packed up their things and said, “Forget it!  It just can’t work!  Let’s go home.”

We have come 180 degrees from where we started and the beautiful way things should be working.  We’ve really messed up the system.  I ask all of you to pass this story along to everyone you know, then I ask you to do what Mr. Lay and Mr. Freeman did.



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