A 17-year old female high school student from Rhode Island was invited to speak at Hugh Heffner’s home about the First Amendment. This caught my attention. I studied civil liberties in college and find them fascinating and vital to our American way of life. But, a 17-year old speaking at the home of an adult magazine tycoon made my eyebrows close in on each other.
If you have not read the 1st Amendment in a while, here it is:
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
The student, a self-described atheist, won a Heffner 1st Amendment Award for successfully challenging a prayer banner in her high school. The story on the radio made me remember a hand-made Young Life banner occasionally displayed at my high school that invited anyone to pray together before school began. Young Life helped many of my friends during a difficult time in High School. I felt offended that someone might want to challenge it. But that was not what happened in Rhode Island.
In that high school gymnasium, the banner read:
Our Heavenly Father.
Grant us each day the desire to do our best.
To grow mentally and
morally as well as physically.
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others.
Help us to
be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.
Teach us the
value of true friendship.
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring
credit to Cranston High School West.
This banner was a gift from the 1963 graduating class and replaced recitation of the Lord’s Prayer which was stopped in 1962. In March of this year the banner was removed.
I am saddened by this story and also somehow uplifted. The way that the 1st Amendment has been interpreted shows that this banner is inappropriate. I get that. What saddens me is that the banner got it right – to be kind, honest,
helpful, to grow mentally, morally, physically, and to be good sports in bad
times and to cherish friendship. Yes these are Christian ethics. But they are
not the sole property of the Christian Church. I think they are vital ethics of
conduct and are applicable to any High School.
I am uplifted because every day at Saint John’s I stand for our school prayer. Each morning at 8:22 a student leads us in prayer after we recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This morning it was a 5thgrader. Our Constitution guarantees Saint John’s the right to prayer in school. As a parochial school we have many protections. And, before Sunday services, the servers and I stand in a circle and pray. Once a month or so I pray in thanksgiving for the freedom we have to worship God as we choose and I pray for Christians around the globe that
do not enjoy such protections.
Freedom is a tricky thing. We have the right to assemble and worship and no level of government can establish a religion. I strongly believe in both. It’s like being in the world but not of the world. Recently I was at the DMV registering our new car. While waiting in line, I tried to imagine what it would be like if government got into the business of establishment of religion. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Can you imagine the permit forms you’d have to fill out to receive communion?
As we get move closer to Memorial Day, let us all pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms, and especially the freedom to worship. Let us be thankful for the freedom of speech – even if we disagree with what the other person is saying. Let us be thankful for the freedom to assemble – even if we have a different opinion from the assemblers. Let us be thankful for the freedom to worship – even if others decide loudly to not worship or to not believe in God. And, let us take a moment to thank those who created and those who defend our constitution and its amendments.
God’s peace to you,