Supreme Court On Prayer And Bible Reading II

By John J. Duncan Jr.

Last week I wrote about the U.S. Supreme Court cases in the 1960s which banned prayer and Bible reading in public schools.

In the prayer case, all three levels of the New York Courts – trial, appellate, and supreme – had ruled in favor of allowing nondenominational prayers, but they were reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision in 1962 and one the next year went contrary to several earlier Supreme Court opinions.

In Zorach v. Clauson in 1952, the court said, “We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.”

That opinion was written by the super-liberal Justice William O. Douglas. He added that it was ridiculous to believe there should be a separation of church and state in every conceivable way: “A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which the court opens each session: ‘God save the United States and this Honorable Court.’”

One of the things I enjoyed the most when I was in Congress was showing people around the Capitol when I had time. I was always grateful for my job and I loved (and still love) history.

In fact, I took most of my electives at UT in history and could have had a degree in history if I had been in the College of Liberal Arts.

I remember one anti-communist physics professor at UT who told me he had voted to change the name of that college to the College of Arts and Sciences because he was “neither a liberal nor an artist.”

People were frequently surprised when I told them every session of the House and Senate was opened with prayer. They were even more surprised when I showed them the prayer room just off the rotunda in the center of the Capitol and told them that there were House and Senate prayer groups that met each week in the Capitol when in session.

I had the privilege of sitting on the platform during eight presidential inaugurations, and everyone had both opening and closing prayers.

I think it is sad that we give our national leaders the privilege of prayer and Bible reading in the nation’s capitol but we don’t give that same privilege to the nation’s school children.

Also, it seems to me that the problems of this country have grown bigger just about every year since prayer and Bible reading were banned in our public schools.

I know that most children probably didn’t pay much attention or get much out of it when hearing prayers or Bible verses in school. But it sent a very important message to children that there was a higher power in charge or who was there to help during tough times later in life.

And who could know when a child might have come to school hurting in some way because of an argument between parents, a divorce, or a death in the family who might have been comforted by a prayer or a Bible verse?

We have had great technological progress since the ‘60s, but in many personal, moral, and human ways, we have often regressed. We certainly have much more crime (murders, violence, etc.), more family breakups, and more personal breakdowns.

In 2nd Chronicles 7:14, the Bible says: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

We need healing in this country today, both as individuals and as a nation. And we need more prayer – in our government, in our schools, and in our homes.

I remember hearing a prayer by my friend John Wood, the former pastor of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church. He prayed for everyone there, of course, but then added that he was praying especially for those who were not there and who thought they didn’t need prayer, “and thus needed it most of all.”